It's Her Job Too Lorna Wendt's $20 million divorce case is the shot heard 'round the water cooler.
By Betsy Morris Reporter Associate Lixandra Urresta

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Once upon a time, a good corporate wife was to be seen and not heard. She was to make sure nothing, but nothing, came between her man and his work. She was to shield him from the tedious and distracting details of domestic life. She was to raise beautiful, well-mannered children and maintain a beautiful, well-appointed home, making it look effortless. She was to work the charity circuit--to be the belle of the charity ball and also its unpaid CEO. She was to smile through scores of business dinners. And she was never, ever, to make a stink. Even in the worst of times, even when things unraveled, she was expected to know her place and, if need be, to slip quietly offstage. Lorna Wendt did all of these things except the last. When her 32-year marriage to GE Capital CEO Gary Wendt came apart two years ago, she raised a big ruckus. She wanted half of the $100 million she estimated he was worth. She wanted to tap what she considered her rightful share of the treasure-trove of unvested GE stock options and pension benefits accumulated during the marriage but not due until later in his career. She wanted respect. She wanted acknowledgment, just once and writ large, that society valued all those things she'd done on the home front. As with executive pay, the amount one needs to live on wasn't the issue. The money was merely a way of keeping score.

And Lorna Wendt did score when Connecticut Superior Court Judge Kevin Tierney handed down part of his ruling last month. She came away with $20 million--far less than the $50 million she'd sought, but far more than the $8 million plus alimony that Wendt had originally offered. She got half the hard assets--breaking the glass ceiling that often exists in upper-crust divorces, where wives are more likely to get what the judge thinks they need according to a practice known in the divorce bar as "enough is enough." And while Judge Tierney didn't give her any of her husband's stock options outright, he did rule that those granted during the marriage were marital property and that she should be compensated for some of their value.

The Wendt case has launched a thousand cocktail-party conversations and struck fear in the hearts of primary breadwinners everywhere. A lot of men are still incredulous of her demands. In a big-bucks case like hers, "the question becomes, Is the person who is making the money--is that person's contribution greater than the person who stays at home and runs the house?" says Robert Stephan Cohen, a New York divorce lawyer. "I'll tell you, having represented a number of high-net-worth individuals--they don't think so. They think the contribution of the at-home spouse is important, but not equal." Yet Lorna Wendt has elicited cheers from lots of career women and stay-at-home women alike. No matter that immense portions and important nuances of the judge's ruling still aren't known. (We still don't know, for instance, how close she came to the 50% mark or where Judge Tierney came out exactly on the value of a corporate wife.) He released just a 28-page summary of what is expected to be a 450-plus page decision. No matter the unlikelihood of this very proper, soft-spoken, 54-year-old woman straight out of another era becoming a feminist symbol. Her case has struck a chord.

It isn't hard to see why. Sure, Lorna Wendt is rich, privileged, hardly Everywoman. (She told the court that she needed a $10,000-a-month clothing budget.) But as the woman behind the success story, she has come to stand for the many things that wives still mostly end up doing and that society seems mostly to take for granted: child rearing, tending a family's emotional and spiritual needs, and the unglamorous stuff like car pools, doctor's appointments, sympathy notes. Lorna Wendt has become a lightning rod for the tensions that swirl around what has traditionally been called women's work. In a poll conducted by Yankelovich Partners for FORTUNE, far more women (57%) than men (41%) say this kind of support is extremely important to a man's career. Far more women (51%) than men (28%) feel that the duties of a corporate wife--travel, entertaining, and charity work in addition to child rearing and housework--are extremely important to a husband's success.

The Wendt case also highlights the struggle this country's courts have had over the past three decades in determining how to divide fairly the goods in this age of divorce and women's rights. Just 14 years ago, the Guide to American Law, a legal encyclopedia, defined the legal concept of marriage this way: "A husband has the obligation to support a wife and a wife has the duty to serve." The notion that in divorce the husband would wind up with most of the property and the wife with alimony support influenced divorce settlements for a long time. The advent of no-fault divorce laws around 1970 and the large-scale entry of women into the labor force caused courts in many states to divide assets more equitably.

But what's equitable? In community property states--there are nine of them--courts consider all income and property that accumulate during a marriage to be owned equally. In only a handful of those (notably California) does that mean a mandatory fifty-fifty split. The rest of the states are equitable distribution states, in which courts attempt to divide property fairly, taking into consideration such factors as length of marriage, the contributions of both spouses, ages and health, and, of course, prenups.

Increasingly, women have been asserting that it isn't just the spouse who brings home a paycheck who provides economic value. "We can't put a price tag on things like children. We don't say they're worth $7 billion, nor should we," says Martha Fineman, a Columbia University law professor who testified on behalf of Lorna Wendt. "The problem with domestic labor is that it is consumed. You don't have anything left over except the children. You don't have it left to divide."

Increasingly, divorce lawyers say, courts have been responding to the notion of marriage as a partnership. In lower-asset divorces, judges already are often steering cases toward more of a fifty-fifty split. It is in the high-asset cases--where the primary breadwinner often argues that his success has resulted from a special gift or talent--that big gaps still exist. But even here, the stay-at-home spouses are getting a lot more assertive. "They're beginning to say, 'Hey, I'm a full partner.' I think as housewives, they didn't ever look at it that way before," says Eleanor Alter, a New York divorce lawyer.

What impact Lorna Wendt's case will have on all this is difficult to say until the judge renders his full opinion. Attorneys for both sides have received copies of the judge's rough draft but won't share it because it is exactly that: rough. Pages are missing and out of order; some are handwritten. Still, Lorna Wendt's lawyers are willing to discuss several of the draft's highlights. While she has scored big in some areas, she seems to have suffered setbacks on some of her major arguments. "Judge Tierney didn't put a dollar value on her contributions but seems to have found that Lorna Wendt's contributions, while substantial, weren't as great as Gary Wendt's," says Sarah Oldham, one of Lorna Wendt's attorneys. "He found that her contributions don't justify what she's asking for." Judge Tierney's draft, she says, also finds that marriage is not a commercial partnership and that it would be up to the Connecticut legislature to create a presumption of a fifty-fifty asset split in a divorce. Even so, Oldham says, "she's gotten the door open" in winning half of Wendt's hard assets and in persuading the judge that perks like stock options are marital property.

Divorce laws vary by state, and the Wendt case won't set binding legal precedents. But the judge's full ruling is being breathlessly awaited by lawyers all over the country, and it is bound to have some influence on the tactics of divorce lawyers and the thinking of judges. Already, Lorna Wendt has removed some of the stigma associated with putting up a big public fight.

At first glance this might seem like a commotion over an anachronism. After all, in 84% of the marriages in this country both spouses now have jobs. Yet the topmost rungs of corporate and professional America still are heavily populated by "traditional" couples. And while it has become very un-PC for a company to have any overt expectations of its employees' spouses, the truth is that at many places it's still very difficult for a man to get into the executive suite without a corporate wife.

That's why Lorna Wendt has been so adamant. "I complemented him by keeping the home fires burning and by raising a family and by being the CEO of the Wendt corporation and by running the household and grounds and social and emotional ties so he could go out and work very hard at what he was good at," she says. "If marriage isn't a partnership between equals, then why get married? If you knew that some husband or judge down the road was going to say, 'You're a 30% part of this marriage, and he's a 70% part,' would you get married?"

With such arguments, she has stirred the pot in a lot of other divorce cases. Just since her case went to trial a year ago, two of her star witnesses, Columbia's Fineman and Stanford University economist Myra Strober, have served as consultants in divorce cases across the country. So far, one or the other or both have taken part in the cases of cellular-telephone pioneer Craig McCaw and his ex-wife, Wendy, in Washington; Charles Morgan Jr., CEO of information services provider Acxiom Corp., and his ex-wife, Jane, in Arkansas; Jamie Coulter, CEO of the Lone Star Steakhouse chain, and his ex-wife, Gayla, in Kansas; and more.

For divorce lawyers it's merely a gold mine, but for a growing number of women it's a full-fledged movement--a nonfiction version of the First Wives Club. Lorna Wendt has encouraged others to speak up. "The divorce system is really discriminatory against women in big-money cases, still very patriarchal," says Melita Easters Hayes, who went through a high-profile divorce from Atlanta computer executive Dennis Hayes but has kept mostly silent about it until now, at least in public. She spends a lot of time counseling other similarly situated women through their divorces. Lorna Wendt has begun the Foundation for Equality in Marriage, which she hopes will carry on her cause through a speaker's bureau and other educational programs. By the time its board held its first meeting last month, she had already received nearly 1,000 E-mails.

Nobody is more stunned by all this than Gary Wendt. "I was really unprepared," he says. "I had no idea of the venom that was going to be spewed at me. I mean, we really thought this thing was going to be settled on the courthouse steps." His side of the story is very different from hers. He has always maintained that he was worth a lot less than she claimed--approximately $21 million at the end of 1995, when the case began, and roughly double that now. (The big difference in their valuations: taxes--he has deducted them--plus unvested stock options, restricted stock, and other deferred benefits that he says have no current value because he needs to continue working to get them.) He says he did offer her half. "Factually the story was 'Man Has $20 Million, Offers Wife $10 Million,' '' he says. But he believes his wife and her lawyers turned the case into a feminist political football. "By manufacturing phony numbers, they created the issue," he says.

For Lorna Wendt, it has been a rather breathtaking metamorphosis from 1960s housewife to star of the TV newsmagazines. She is a gracious woman, warm and ever so polite. Whatever she might be feeling, she expresses no rage or bitterness. Some anger, yes, and tears. But when she talks about Wendt, she is diplomatic, protective even still.

She and Wendt grew up in small towns in Wisconsin (they met in high school in Rio, Wis.) in much humbler circumstances and simpler times. Her father was a Lutheran minister, but the person in the family she really looked up to was her mother, a cheerful, giving person who did all her own baking and canning and raised six children. Her mother set an example, she says: "Don't think of yourself first. Husband, family first." And Lorna tried to live up to the example. "I wanted to be the best wife. I drove myself to live up to these things that I had seen my mother and other women do. I would support Gary and follow him. In those days women just did not say, 'I don't want to move, Dear.' "

She went with him to Cambridge, Mass., where he attended Harvard Business School. She worked to help support them and typed his papers at night. Then they moved to Spring, Texas, outside Houston, where he worked for a developer; then to Atlanta; then to Coral Gables, Fla.; and finally to Stamford, Conn., where they settled in 1975 when he joined GE Capital. She took her duties seriously, smoothing the way for each move, building new community and church ties each time, caring for their two young daughters. And it is important to her that even though she became wealthy and privileged, she never forgot her roots. She still does the ironing and shovels snow. She has always sung in the church choir. Until 12 years ago, she taught piano to schoolchildren.

Her introduction to the role of corporate wife came in Texas, where Wendt's boss and his wife were luminaries on the Houston social scene and included the Wendts in some of their big black-tie parties. "We began to get a glimpse of what maybe could be," Lorna Wendt says.

Her education continued in earnest after the move to Stamford and GE Capital. "When we came in to meet the CEO's wife, I mean, wow. She was somebody up there on that pedestal." The woman in question--Valerie Stanger, wife of GE Capital's John Stanger--was studied and emulated by the other wives. They would watch how she dressed, how she acted, how she entertained. "You'd watch to see how she treated others and how she always had a kind word and was very interested in people," Lorna Wendt recalls.

Lorna Wendt was a quick study. "I have books at home telling me exactly what you should do as a corporate wife," she laughs. "First of all, you were a good wife. You're not going to make demands on your husband that will take his time away from his business. You're going to be a good mother, and by that I mean keep your children in control. We don't want any scandal going on with the children."

She considered herself the CEO of the Wendt family. She never dreamed of asking her husband to call a plumber or of calling him home to tend a sick child, even though one of their daughters was hospitalized frequently as a baby. That was her job--running everything smoothly "so he wouldn't have any worries when he came home at night."

In her more public role, she learned she had to look and dress the part: tasteful, never too flamboyant, but not too conservative either. And it mattered, she says. If you didn't fit the bill, you stood out, and other wives--and husbands--would notice. She would overhear conversations on the private jet: " 'Gee, did you see her dress?' Or, 'She didn't talk very well,' " Lorna Wendt recalls. It could be the kiss of death.

She was expected to entertain--sometimes extravagantly, sometimes informally, at the drop of a hat. (Just how much entertaining she did is a bone of contention.) She had Wendt's colleagues over for a New Year's Day lobster dinner little more than a week after the birth of their first child in 1968. In the early years she'd often throw together a dinner party on scant hours' notice. "I would do it and I wouldn't rebel. Because I was supporting Gary, and I don't think that's wrong." She carried through with her last big black-tie Christmas party at their house on Erskine Road in December 1995, despite having learned about a week before that Wendt wanted a divorce. Much of her life was a command performance. "You were always to have a smile on. You always acted as if you wanted to be there, liked everyone you came in contact with.... Acting as if. I spent my whole life acting as if."

As GE Capital spread across the globe in the past ten years, the couple spent more time on business trips. By the end, Lorna Wendt says, she was traveling five or six months out of the year. In the summer of 1995 they visited Italy, France, and London on a business trip, then flew to Bermuda in July, then headed to Eastern Europe for "a three-week summer vacation"--a van ride through eastern Germany, Austria, Poland, and Hungary with another GE couple. She says, "Gary wanted to get a feel for the countryside and culture" because GE was going to be expanding into those markets.

Each year, GE Capital would reward its top producers by sending them on lavish trips to places like Bali, Singapore, China, Egypt, Greece. She would accompany Wendt for two or three weeks at a time. They were dream trips, and for the most part she greatly enjoyed them. But it wasn't all a piece of cake. Each week the GE Capital award winners would change, but the activities would not. Each week, for the most part, she would attend the same tours, see the same sights, hand out awards to the wives during the culminating black-tie dinner--each time acting as if it were as special as her first. "I would pride myself. Even if Gary didn't want to go on that bus trip again--you know, Napoleon's tomb for the seventh time--I did. I took my job seriously because I remembered when I looked up to the CEO's wife."

She had come to understand along the way the importance of the game. GE demanded a lot from its employees. So it "was very good at dangling carrots in front of wives' noses," she says. "I remember when we first got to GE, it was: Wow, I may get a chance to go to Europe in the fall. Okay, all right, you can work hard. You can stay at the office longer."

Throughout business history, of course, wives have been an important part of the equation, and companies have known it. "Wives are significant and very important--however they are disposed," says one consultant who has advised many CEOs on personal matters over the years. They can hurt an executive by being "uppity," by doing too much shopping and social climbing, he says. "Or they can put a different spin, a more humane spin, on their husbands so the business associate or client says to himself, 'If this gal is so great, there must be more to this guy than meets the eye.' " Adds Gerard R. Roche, chairman of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles: "Just to be able to come home like a warship back into the harbor and find solace, encouragement, and support, and have no big guns shooting at you--it can be an enormous advantage." The best executives are those who lead fully integrated lives, he says, "where you can't tell the difference between their working life, their social life, their relaxing life. There is a thread that goes through it all; their affairs of state are constantly in mind."

That, obviously, requires a supportive wife, and Linda Schlenker has been one twice over. Her first husband was the chief financial officer of a Florida HMO, and during that three-year marriage, 15 to 20 evenings a month were business functions--ball games, symphony concerts, dinners on the road with prospective joint venture partners. "He would have me go along for the light conversation and to take some of the business off the evening," she says. Afterward he would often consult her about whether the attendees would make good business partners. "Everything I did revolved around the success of my husband's business," she says.

Now, in her second marriage, she plays the same role for her current husband, Ron Schlenker, who owns a manufacturer's rep firm in Minneapolis. They've been married 22 years and "We hardly ever eat a meal in our home," she says. "I consider myself a key element in this corporation. I am very much an equal partner. He says since we've been entertaining as a team, his business has grown appreciably."

Not everybody is still so keen on the role. Another twice-married corporate wife says she, too, was very supportive of her first husband, a high-profile New York attorney. It was she who gave him the encouragement to move to the big time when he was being wooed by a large New York law firm earlier in their marriage. "He kept suggesting Denver and other places that would be better lifestyle choices," she recalls. But she would tell him: "You're too good to waste yourself in a smaller city."

He did accept the job and became a big success. She raised the children and picked up the pieces during his frequent and unpredictable business trips. "When he was the Cub Scout master, I did most of the projects. He volunteered to collect for the American Heart Association--I was the one out in the snow collecting," she says. After 30 years of marriage, her husband left her for a younger woman. She eventually remarried a successful businessman, but now she has her own life. "I pick and choose what I do."

Looking back, she doesn't feel that she had much choice in the arrangement. "I was a product of the '50s. I graduated in 1955, and in those days, you were practically a failure if you weren't married a week after graduating from college," she says. "Had I lived in the '90s, I would certainly be out working. I would have a nanny and a career. I love to juggle. I would have liked to have been in this generation. I know exactly what I would have done. I would've gone into television, anchored the six o'clock news."

Surely, with so many women in the work force, the corporate wife's job description must be changing? To some extent it is. Modern-day corporate wives aren't so ceremonial. They aren't expected to drop everything and hop to. A few have their own careers. They most certainly are freer to gripe about their husbands' work loads. But if anything, the job has gotten even tougher. It often requires more travel. It often requires that wives be more knowledgeable about current events and the business. There has been a boom in so-called work vacations given as awards to top producers. And corporate wives are still expected to pick up all the pieces at home.

Indeed, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Numerous studies indicate that men in traditional marriages tend to earn more and get promoted more than those in dual-career marriages. "Consistently, again and again, those who do best in corporate organizations still very much come from the traditional family," says Linda K. Stroh, associate professor of organizational behavior at Chicago's Loyola University. "The higher up you go, the likelier it is that you will have a traditional marriage." There is, of course, the chicken-and-egg question: How many wives of successful executives stop working simply because they can afford to? Some researchers are finding that that doesn't happen as often as you might think. Myra Strober, one of the professors who testified in the Wendt case, recently completed a study of Stanford University's graduating class of 1981. She found that as husbands climbed the corporate ladder, wives' careers often fell by the wayside. After relocations, children, "you know the rest of the story. What's the chance she can come back to her career track in a way that's satisfying?" She calls these wives--two-thirds of the stay-at-homes in her study--Reluctant Homemakers. "People say, 'Isn't the Lorna Wendt problem a problem of the past? Women in their 30s and 40s aren't going to play that role.' Perhaps fewer of them will, but it goes with the way jobs are designed. In many corporations today, it takes such single-minded devotion to get to the top."

That's certainly true in the case of Ron Howard and his wife, Nicki, who might be considered a '90s version of the corporate wife. She has the usual roster of awards dinners and business functions to attend for Ron, a technology entrepreneur who founded a software company in 1977 and then saw it through a merger, a spinoff, and a combination last month with Atlanta-based Hayes Microcomputer. (He is now the CEO of the new company, Hayes Corp.) Nicki entertains business associates in their home, but only about twice a quarter. "It would be unfair to make her take an ongoing role in the maintenance of business relationships," he says. "She has tremendous burdens already."

He tries hard to spend as much time as possible with his two children, ages 6 and 8, curtailing his trips as much as possible. He even managed to coach Little League last spring. But often he's at his computer until midnight or 1 A.M. He worked Christmas day. "It is not even so much the time work takes," he says, "as the monopoly of brainpower, even when I'm home." Nicki takes care of the home, the finances, the children, the personal relationships. "I could never do what I do without her," he says. "If it were not for her, I would have a very, very emotionally deficient life."

It's not just the business world that is still depending on corporate wives. "The people who are running large charities are the corporate wives," says Carol Lee Daniel, who is in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Richard Daniel, the retired vice chairman of Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. Most high-level Mellon wives of her generation did a lot of charity work, she says. Their organizations could "pretty much count on getting some underwriting from the bank," she says. And conversely, "It reflects well on the bank, and the bank is very proud of it." She served as president of the Twentieth Century Club, a prestigious women's club in Pittsburgh. She helped create and then co-chaired the Donald C. Winson Award dinner, a black-tie fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. She has also chaired the society's Snowflake Luncheon. "I've worked on the ballet ball, the symphony ball, the Family House Polo Match," she says. "Can you believe it, I have actually taken classes in napkin folding?"

After years of fulfilling the unsung duties of a corporate wife, a woman develops a sense of partnership--a sense of entitlement, a sense of ownership. When Melita Easters began dating Dennis Hayes, Hayes Microcomputer Products was still just a small modem company; he had just moved it out of his house. She was a journalist and wrote press releases and speeches for him. After they were married, and as the company grew, she continued her involvement. She still wrote speeches, and organized bigger events like dinners at Atlanta's High Museum of Art.

"Dennis would call me and say, 'I'm bringing some guys over, can you do supper?' " she recalls. She took cooking lessons, bought a big double freezer, and stocked it with steaks. "I always knew it was his company, but I felt very involved in the blood, sweat, and tears equity of it. In our case, it was a decision that I would not work but be increasingly supportive of his career. It is often an economic decision of the couple that the wife do all those things women do."

That's not the way her ex-husband, Dennis, sees it at all. The things she did for the business, he says, could have been done by others. "It would have been a lot cheaper to hire somebody," he muses. He's not shedding any tears for his ex-wife. She had help in maintaining the house and help in caring for the children, which freed her to do a lot of other things. And he says, though they had no prenuptial agreement, the terms of their marriage were always clear to him. "In our marriage, our household was what we had in common," he says. Other than that, "your business interests are yours, and mine are mine."

Easy as it is for wives to come to believe that what's mine is yours and vice versa, it just isn't so legally, says Robert Epstein, one of the attorneys who represented Gary Wendt. "When people get married, it is romantic to say they become one," he says. "But there is no such thing as a partnership created by marriage." Legally, he says, you can kiss that notion goodbye. Kiss goodbye, too, the notion that Lorna Wendt is entitled to 50%, Epstein adds. "While we don't deny she made significant contributions, Mr. Wendt also made a contribution as a father and as a husband and providing her with a wonderful home and a lifestyle that is certainly very special," he says. "We do deny that she was significantly responsible for Mr. Wendt's success. Sure, Mrs. Wendt did what every wife does: She did some dinner parties and traveled with her husband."

It is that kind of logic and language that seems to be inspiring any number of women to fight back. After seven years of marriage and two children, Melita Hayes fought a scrappy enough battle during her 1988 divorce. At that time, she ended up with, among other things, a hefty temporary alimony and 10% of the Hayes company. But she became an even bigger force two years ago as Hayes was emerging from Chapter XI bankruptcy protection. She joined a competing group that was trying to acquire Hayes at the time. That effort failed, but in the meantime the company bought her stake for $11 million, way more than its initial offer, she says. "I don't think Dennis had any idea I would end up playing that kind of role in the bankruptcy," she says. She has now made it "something of a mission" to counsel other women through divorces. "You see women settle for far less than they should" because the process is so gruesome, she says. Ladies to the end, many of the wives aren't ready for the bare-knuckle brawl that occurs in divorce. "You see women living in million-dollar houses but who are stuck buying groceries on chump change," she says.

Carol Lee Daniel, the Mellon Bank wife, can say very little about her divorce case, which is scheduled for trial next month. But it has been very painful. Her husband, who is 70 years old and retired, is claiming that she was not a good corporate wife, she says. But when she asked some of the other wives to testify on her behalf, she says, one wife told her: "Hell, yes. At every one of those dinners you were sitting across the table, smiling just as hard as I was."

Even Linda Schlenker, who remains an enthusiastic corporate wife in a happy second marriage, has her guard up this time. Her first husband didn't give her much credit for the role she had played. Nor did he give her much in a divorce settlement. She ended up in debt and with a job that paid only $28,000 a year. She is now armed with a prenup.

But the most visible and influential member of this group is, of course, Lorna Wendt. She believes her marriage began to unravel when she began to stand up for herself--when she began to do Outward Bound trips about six years ago. (Wendt was on the board, and their first trip was together.) Outward Bound tests your inner strength. It teaches you about yourself. It also teaches teamwork. And Lorna Wendt got hooked. "I found out that other people valued me for what I thought, that I have a mind, that I can have a difference of opinion," she says.

She began to assert herself more. She had always loved music and continued to sing in the church choir and in the Greenwich choral society, and she began to beg off on some of the business trips if she had a concert. "I never did neglect my duties as a corporate wife," she says. "I would always check with him first. But if I could sure squeeze in another Outward Bound trip, I would."

She believes the breaking point came on the van trip through Eastern Europe three summers ago. It was vacation, but also business, she says--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. "You'd be out most of that time with men, and you'd always have to have that smile on your face and be interested," she says. In Warsaw she asked if she could be excused from one of the business dinners so she could go out on her own for Italian. "Gary threw a fit. I didn't go. It was part of my independence. I think as I got stronger, he couldn't quite field it." A spokesman for Gary Wendt says he was angry but that it wasn't the first time she had refused to attend a dinner.

For his part, Gary Wendt won't comment on what led to the divorce. He and Lorna Wendt agreed as part of their case that they wouldn't make allegations about who is at fault. But he definitely gives the impression that he feels in the latter stages of their marriage she wasn't living up to her end of the bargain. She hardly entertained during those years, he says. "We built a very nice home in North Stamford, and one of the things I expected out of that was the very nice home could be used for entertaining and business situations. I could never persuade her and I finally gave up." There was a lot of travel, he adds. "For the last seven or eight years, I have viewed it as one of the important parts of my job to lead the expansion internationally, and so I did a lot of travel and I would frequently ask her to go along. I wanted a companion. She had the choice, and sometimes she would go and sometimes she wouldn't." Over time, though, "I was lonely. I was working very hard, and it didn't seem like there was anyone to share it with." Shortly before the divorce proceedings began, he took up with another woman who was ten years his senior. "I found somebody one day who was happy, and that's why I was attracted to her. She was a happy person."

The fireworks began when he refused to cut Lorna in on the tremendous wealth he stands to reap at the end of the career she feels she helped make possible. He says he'd never thought about marriage as an economic partnership. "I didn't before. I haven't since. I don't understand that," he says.

So she got tough. She decided she would play the game his way. She said to him: "If Jack Welch said, 'Gary, there's somebody else I really want to bring onboard; thank you for all your hard work all those years,' you would be out working your hardest to get the best damned deal you could. And I'm just doing the same."

And that, perhaps, is the most shocking aspect of the Wendt case--that a wife of her stature and credibility and good grooming could make such a public fuss. If Lorna Wendt can stand up for herself, then anybody can stand up. Perhaps the real message conveyed by the uproar over the case is this: Get it straight on the wife thing. If it's really important to have somebody home raising the kids, then put your money where your mouth is. And if you don't, then don't any longer expect her to keep smiling and act like a lady. Those days are gone.




FORTUNE enlisted Yankelovich Partners to poll 600 adults on their ideas about marriage, divorce, and the contributions of the corporate wife. About half were women. All were from households with annual incomes of $50,000 or more. Here's what we found.


--In a divorce in a long-term marriage where the husband works outside the home and the wife is not employed for pay, the wife should be entitled to half the assets accumulated during the marriage.

93% of women agree 85% of men agree


--The pension accumulated during the marriage should be split evenly.

80% of women agree 68% of men agree

--Stock options granted during the marriage should be split evenly.

77% of women agree 62% of men agree


--Managing the household and child rearing are extremely important to a husband's success.

57% of women agree 41% of men agree

--A corporate wife who also must travel, entertain, and act as a sounding board is extremely important to the success of a high-level business executive.

51% of women agree 28% of men agree

--The lifestyle of a corporate wife is more of a job than a luxury.

73% of women agree 57% of men agree

--The lifestyle of a corporate wife is more of a luxury than a job.

16% of women agree 29% of men agree