For Charles Phillips, president of Oracle (ORCL), 2010 promised to be a good year. He heads one of America's top tech companies, holds directorships at Viacom and Morgan Stanley, serves on the board of the American Museum of Natural History and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and has been appointed to President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And on a personal level, he was in the process of reconciling with his wife, Karen.And then the billboards happened. The first one went up this week in Manhattan's Times Square: Dominated by a romantic shot of Phillips with YaVaughnie Wilkins, a woman not his wife, it bore the sappy tagline, "You are my soulmate forever," and Phillips's initials. At the bottom was a URL linking for photos of the happy couple.
Promotion? No, Revenge
Other billboards soon appeared: three in New York, one in Atlanta, and one in Oracle's hometown, San Francisco. Gawker bubbled with speculation about the ads, and commenters suggested they promoted an upcoming romantic comedy or a self-promotional stunt in the Angelyne mold. But within days, the truth came out: The billboards were revenge.
Today, Phillips explained part of the story to a San Francisco area NBC affiliate: "I had an 8½-year serious relationship with YaVaughnie Wilkins," he said in a statement. "My divorce proceedings began in 2008. The relationship with Ms. Wilkins has since ended, and we both wish each other well."
Phillips's assurances aside, the posters tell another story: Wilkins seems to have engineered the stunt to embarrass him.
The site, though, displays a simple, sincere love. The pictures, organized in albums dating to 2001, show the couple on trips, at what appear to be family events, and at public gatherings. In fact, the albums depict a strong, committed relationship that spanned almost a decade. Combined with a painful karaoke section (the pair's rendition of "Brick House" is particularly rough), the site seems like the kind of gift a devoted wife or girlfriend would make for her man.
Best of Intentions
And according to designer Bela Kovaks, that was the intention. Last August, Wilkins gave Kovaks $1,400 to create the site, telling him it was a gift for Phillips. But since then, Phillips apparently reconciled with his wife and dumped Wilkins. And the jilted lover apparently decided that her relationship with Phillips needed to be shared with the world.
It's unclear whether this will hurt Phillips. While his marriage, charitable board memberships, and association with the Obama administration could be damaged by the publicity, some analysts argue that his job at Oracle probably won't be affected. After all, his boss, Larry Ellison, was a famous playboy before his 2004 marriage to romance novelist Melanie Croft. But if this unwanted sideshow gets in the way of the company's purchase of Sun Microsystems, all bets are off.
As for Wilkins, an author and actress, the smart money says she'll be on The View before the end of February and on a reality show before the end of the year. Memo to Ashley Dupree, Rielle Hunter, and Monica Lewinsky: This is how you do it.
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