BlackRock’s HR chief was fired in July after office relationship

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The BlackRock human resources executive fired in July over an unspecified policy violation had engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Jeff Smith, who had served as BlackRock’s global head of human resources, was the first of two senior executives to be removed from the world’s largest asset manager this year following a relationship at work. Mark Wiseman, global head of active equities, left last week for failing to report an affair with a person who reported to him.

Brian Beades, a spokesman for BlackRock, declined to comment. Messages sent to email addresses listed in public records for Smith bounced back, and no phone number was listed for him.

BlackRock Vice Chairman Philipp Hildebrand said the decision to dismiss the two men reflected the firm’s commitment to its internal culture. He didn’t comment on details.

“Culture is non-negotiable for a great company,” Hildebrand said. “There is no way you can make compromises. And as we said, the behavior we saw is not who we are, and so irrespective of the times, and the standards of the times, you have to preserve your culture.”

At a meeting last year, the firm’s CEO discussed how behavior would be held to a higher standard than rank-and-file employees, people familiar with the matter said.
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Both departures came in the wake of a warning to BlackRock’s senior officials last year. At a meeting, CEO Larry Fink and members of the global executive committee — a leadership team that included Smith and Wiseman — discussed how they would be held to higher ethical standards than other employees.

The #MeToo era has brought heightened awareness across corporate America of the power dynamics in work relationships. McDonalds’ CEO Steve Easterbrook left the company last month over an affair with an employee. In June 2018, Intel removed Brian Krzanich as CEO after the chip-maker learned he had a consensual relationship with an employee.

Smith’s dismissal was announced in a July memo by Fink and President Rob Kapito, who said without elaborating that the human resources chief had violated corporate policy.

Smith oversaw how BlackRock handled its staff in more than 30 countries around the world and had input into succession planning for Fink, 67. BlackRock tapped Manish Mehta, who previously headed markets and investments for its ETFs and Index Investments group, to replace Smith in October. — Additional reporting by Benjamin Robertson, Patrick Henry and Francine Lacqua

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