Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Chris Womack, Southern Company's incoming CEO, has a long history as a womanizer and sexual predator, using company funds to support his illicit activities

Chris and Chloe Womack

The incoming CEO and president of Atlanta-based Southern Company has a long history of womanizing and carrying on illicit affairs with women tied to his professional life, dating to his days as an executive at Alabama Power in Birmingham. Christopher C. Womack had sexual relationships with several women who were in executive or managerial positions at Alabama Power. At least two relationships were financed with power-company money, and those women reportedly submitted to affairs with Womack under the belief it was required to advance their careers. Another woman, outside the company, became part of Alabama Power's vendor network after having an affair with Womack.

All of that is from a stunning investigative series today at, under the headline "Christopher C. Womack: A Legendary Womanizer is Poised to Lead the Southern Company." That is No. 1 in a multi-part series about Womack's extracurricular activities. The sub-title of Part One is "Womack's Long History as a Sexual Predator."

Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney and entrepreneur, says Womack's conduct runs contrary to Southern Company policy on multiple levels. Womack, it appears, took advantage of a corporate culture that promotes what Watkins calls "Southern Male Privilege." And this seems to include sexual predation in the workplace, with little or no repercussions from on high.

Watkins got an up-close view of Womack's behavior several years ago. Watkins writes:

In 1998, a married Christopher C. “Chris” Womack made an inappropriate sexual pass at businesswoman Rita Vaughn Kennedy in a private lounge at the Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama during an afternoon “Happy Hour.” Ms. Kennedy was the wife of local business icon Ted Kennedy, a friend and political supporter of then-Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr.

Ms. Kennedy, who was a key Arrington political supporter and owner of an established travel agency in Birmingham, was waiting in the private lounge to have a meeting with Mayor Arrington. When Arrington and I entered the room, Chris Womack was still harassing Ms. Kennedy.

Arrington sensed that something was wrong and informed Womack that we needed to begin our meeting with Ms. Kennedy. This was the hint for Womack to leave the room.

As soon as Chris Womack departed the lounge area, a distraught Rita Kennedy broke down in tears and informed Arrington and me that Womack had propositioned her for an affair. She recounted the entire conversation while wiping away tears.

At the time, Chris Womack served as Senior Vice President of Public Relations and Corporate Services of Alabama Power Company -- a position he held from 1995 to 1998. Elmer Harris was Womacks' CEO at this Southern Company affiliate.

Arrington immediately called Elmer Harris on his cellphone and reported the sexual harassment incident to Harris. After Arrington’s call to Elmer Harris, Alabama Power got rid of Chris Womack.

Did that solve the problem? No. After taking several detours, Womack's career followed a circular path back to Alabama Power, Watkins reports:

Chris Womack, a native of Greenville, Alabama, today is the president and CEO-elect of Southern Company, one of the nation’s leading energy providers serving 9-million customers nationwide. Womack is poised to become CEO of the Southern Company on May 24, 2023.

From May 2021 to March 2023, Chris Womack served as chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power Company, the Southern Company’s largest subsidiary. He assumed leadership of Georgia Power after serving as executive vice president and president of external affairs for Georgia Power after his return to the Southern Company in 2006.

Prior to rejoining the Southern Company, Chris Womack worked on Capitol Hill for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. He also served as a legislative aide for former Congressman Leon E. Panetta and as staff director for the Subcommittee on Personnel and Police for the Committee on House Administration.

At one point, Womack married Sabrina A. Shannon, whom Watkins describes as "a respected professional in her own right." But Womack's habit of womanizing did not change, Watkins writes:

Chris Womack had a propensity to cheat on Sabrina Shannon. Womack’s reputation as a philanderer was well-known in Birmingham.

At Alabama Power, Womack preyed on female subordinates. He was privately warned about this workplace misconduct, to no avail.

Sabrina Shannon

Throughout the years, Womack sponsored the employment and/or promotion of several women at Alabama Power, in professional and managerial positions with whom he later had illicit affairs. The names of these women are known to us, but we are withholding the publication of them in this article to spare them unwarranted embarrassment.

As Womack progressed through the ranks of the Southern Company, so did his womanizing. This was particularly true in Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, and Houston.

Sabrina Shannon and Chris Womack eventually divorced in May of 2014, but not before Womack reportedly developed a special personal relationship with business executive Chloe J. Cromarty, who lived in Houston, Texas.

Cromarty had a history of working in the energy field, and eventually found her way to Georgia Power, Watkins reports:

Ms. Cromarty was Head of US Power and Gas Compliance for Mercuria Energy America from January 2015 to May 2021. She has also worked in Regulatory Affairs for British Petroleum (2014). Cromarty served as Vice President for Compliance at JPMorgan (2010 - 2014) and Director of Regulatory Affairs for International Power America, Inc.

From 2000 to 2005, Cromarty worked at Georgia Power in Transmission Construction Contracts, State Legislative Affairs, Resource Policy & Planning Transmission.

After his divorce from Sabrina Shannon, Chris Womack married Chloe Cromarty in a private ceremony.

On April 5, 2023, Womack and Cromarty bought a $4.5-million, 5-bedroom, 7,644 sq./ft. mansion in the Brookhaven section of Atlanta. The home compliments the power couple's new lifestyle.

The appearance of domestic bliss did not hinder Womack's tendency to stray, and that led to relationships with several women in Birmingham who were tied to Alabama Power, Southern Company's second largest subsidiary. In fact, Watkins writes, "Georgia Power customers financed Womack's illicit romances." 

Chloe Cromarty was not Chris Womack’s only special personal relationship, but she is the one who now carries his last name.

At least two other special personal relationships were financed with power-company money. I am withholding the names of these two women because they have done nothing wrong. Each woman reportedly submitted to a relationship with Womack that she thought was required to advance her professional and business career.

One woman is still employed as a manager for Alabama Power Company in Birmingham. Though she is well qualified for her position, she was reportedly offered the job and selected for the position because of her special personal relationship with Womack.

Another woman in a special personal relationship with Womack was placed in the Southern Company’s vendor system to provide infrastructure equipment for the installation of power lines. She works as a diversity partner with major suppliers of the same equipment. Over the years, her business relationship as a Southern Company “pass-through” vendor has reportedly netted her several millions of dollars.

It appears that Womack’s conduct with respect to these two women contravened the Southern Company’s Code of Conduct, for the woman who is a management employee, and the Compliance Principles, for the woman in the vendor relationship.

It is unclear whether these women would have obtained the professional status they currently enjoy within the Southern Company without entering into sexual   relationships with Chris Womack. What is clear is that they each felt the need to participate in a special personal relationship with Womack in order to cross a higher business threshold at the Southern Company.

Watkins has known Chris Womack for more than 30 years and seen him consistently advance in a corporate culture that seems to reward male executives with wandering eyes. Writes Watkins:

I have known Chris Womack for 37 years. I first met Womack in 1988 when he was a campaign aide to Democratic presidential nominee Dick Gephardt. He is smart, polished, and likeable.

Womack’s perennial weakness in the business arena is his propensity to stalk and sexually harass women who work within his sphere of business influence (as well as those who work outside of the company's orbit), whether they are married or not. This propensity has been mostly unabated since 1988.

What is worse, Womack has always managed to finance his sexual escapades using corporate dollars and the perks that come with his executive positions (i.e., private jet rides, access to sky boxes for sporting events and concerts, attendance at private parties and galas, travel to exotic ports of call, etc.). Over the years, millions of dollars of Southern Company money have been spent by Womack to deploy these corporate resources as magnets for lovers, all in violation of company policies and state and federal law governing publicly traded companies.

As Chris Womack ascended the Southern Company’s corporate ladder, his appetite for a corporate-sponsored playboy lifestyle increased. Likewise, Womack’s power over women increased, as well.

The Chris Womack story exposes Southern Company's "anything goes" policy that seems to apply to male executives. In fact, Watkins writes, "There are no checks and balances at the Southern Company to reign-in unethical conduct, racism, and sexism":

Based on the series of articles we have published on the Southern Company since January 2023, there are no checks and balances at the company to reign-in unethical conduct, compliance violations, racism, and/or sexism committed by top executive officers and board members. The company's existing policies on these subjects are little more than empty words and phrases.

Outgoing CEO Thomas A. Fanning is currently embroiled in a "hush money" payment scheme in which Fanning used corporate funds to pay former girlfriend Kimberly A. Tanaka to keep quiet about surveillance activities that Southern Company operatives and their former associates conducted on her from April 6, 2017 to September 22, 2022. 

These secret "hush money" payments were not disclosed to the Southern Company's board of directors, as required by company policies and applicable state and federal laws governing publicly traded companies. Ironically, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump was indicted on March 30, 2023 on 34 felony counts for his participation in a comparable "hush money" scheme that used his private company's money.

The Southern Company's board of directors has taken no adverse action against Thomas Fanning for participating in a "hush money" scheme arranged by James Y. "Jim" Kerr, II. Until March 31, 2023, Kerr was Fanning's executive vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer, and chief of staff. In fact, the board is prepared to reward Fanning on May 24th with a retirement package with an estimated value of up to $100 million.

In 2018, Jim Kerr was caught on a secret audiotape making racially insensitive remarks about the suppression of environmental-justice rights of the Southern Company’s 4,000 black customers in the North Birmingham, Alabama,  communities of Collegeville, Fairmont, and Harriman Park. Kerr was not fired for his dismissive attitude towards these black customers. Instead, Kerr was promoted to the Chairman, President, and CEO of Southern Gas Company. Kerr's chameleon brand of racism and elitist attitude appears to be incapable of reform.

The steam from conflicted, predatory, and inappropriate behavior has risen to the Southern Company Board of Directors So far, they've shown little appetite for doing anything about it. Writes Watkins:

Lead Independent board member David J. Grain was exposed as a “grifter” who uses his Southern Company platform for his “grifting" activities. We detailed a specific example of Grain’s “grifting” in an investigative report on the Southern Fiber Company.

Board member Kristine Svinicki is dripping with conflicts of interest. Svinicki is the former chairwoman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who departed office in Washington on January 20, 2021, and joined the Southern Company Board of Directors on October 18, 2021.

Board member Donald James is one of the subjects of a criminal complaint that was filed in April with Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani T. Willis. The other subjects of the complaint are: James Kerr, II, David Grain, Kristine Svinicki, and outgoing CEO Thomas Fanning (who was added to the complaint after we learned of Fanning’s involvement in a secret “hush money” scheme with Ms. Tanaka).

Despite the problems highlighted with each of these board members and executive officers, the slate of board members to be reappointed at the Southern Company’s annual meeting on May 24th are mostly the same ones who have failed to reign-in the ongoing racketeering enterprise and massive accounting-fraud scheme that has been reported to federal and state law enforcement agencies by multiple complainants.

Where is the Chris Womack story headed? Watkins suggests it is headed down a path that gets even uglier than what we have seen in Part One:

On May 24th, the Southern Company is set to install a well-known, perennial stalker and sexual harasser of women as its next Chief Executive Officer. This action comes within 30 days after NBCUniversal fired CEO Jeff Shell for inappropriate sexual conduct on April 23, 2023, and 3M fired Michael Vale for sexual misconduct on May 15, 2023. Vale had just been promoted to 3M’s group president and chief business and country officer three weeks ago.

At first blush, the Southern Company's promotion of Jim Kerr, whose "Old South" racism is captured in his own words on the audiotape, and elevation of Christopher Womack, a serial philanderer and sexual harasser of women, seem to be dubious personnel actions for a New York Stock Exchange/Fortune 500 Company. Upon further review, however, these actions reflect the Southern Company's open embrace of a time-honored "Southern Male Privilege."

The "enforcer" of the Southern Company's misogynistic and racist corporate culture is Jim Kerr. Through a network of well-placed minions, Jim Kerr oversees Chris Womack, literally and figuratively. Womack's titles at the Southern Company have largely been ceremonial. In recent years, Kerr has functioned as the "de facto" CEO of the Southern Company.

Finally, the Southern Company privately brags about its incestuous relationship with the National Democratic Party and its chokehold on Joe Biden's Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Based upon the Southern Company's gross misconduct in the workplace and its financial clout within the halls of state and federal government, the company believes it is a "modern-day untouchable."

Only time will tell if this private, internal Southern Company assessment is true.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the Christopher Womack series of investigative articles. It gets much worse.

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