Vince McMahon, the longtime face and power behind WWE and the company’s chairman and CEO, is stepping aside pending an investigation into “alleged executive misconduct” by a special committee of the board of directors.
His daughter, Stephanie McMahon, who herself had recently taken a break from the company to “focus on her family,” will take over as CEO on an interim basis. John Laurinaitis, head of talent relations for WWE, is also a subject of the board’s investigation.
The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, allegations surfaced that McMahon had secretly paid $3 million to a former female employee with whom he had been having an affair. The payout would be one of many for women affiliated with the pro wrestling circuit.
McMahon “will maintain his role and responsibilities with respect to WWE’s creative content during this time and remains committed to assisting with the ongoing review,” a press release this morning said.
“I have pledged my full cooperation to the Special Committee’s investigation and I will do everything I can to support the investigation,” Vince McMahon said. “I also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they may be.”
McMahon is the majority shareholder of the listed company’s class B shares, which gives him the casting vote. Several members of his family also sit on the board of directors.
The WWE has lucrative media deals with NBCUniversal and Fox in the US and is starting to bring in more and more money for streaming and other rights around the world. Last year, it struck a $1 billion deal to merge its streaming network into NBCU’s Peacock.
The board began investigating the matter in April, the WSJ report said. The employee who received the $3 million settlement reportedly had a consensual relationship with McMahon, who used personal funds for the payout. However, that investigation uncovered several older nondisclosure agreements involving claims made by former female WWE employees against McMahon and Laurinaitis.
Stephanie McMahon pledged in the press release to work with the independent directors to “strengthen our culture and our business.”
It is “extremely important,” she added, “that we have a safe and collaborative workplace. I committed to do everything in my power to help the Special Committee complete its work, including the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement the findings.”
In addition to the specific investigation of Vince McMahon and Laurinaitis, the Special Committee and WWE plan to work with an independent third party to conduct a comprehensive review of the company’s compliance program, HR function, and overall culture, the press release said.