By Jill Hamburg Coplan
February 26, 2015

Back when Fortune coined the term “trophy wife” in 1989, the phrase was used to describe the young, beautiful and accomplished second-wives of powerful men. In 2002, when Fortune used the phrase”trophy husband,” it was meant as ironic wordplay. The powerful women’s trophy in the early 00s was a loyal and loving helpmate, standing behind the great woman, cooking a killer beef wellington, driving carpools and coaching soccer.

Many of these early trophy husbands were retirees: see the husbands of Carly Fiorina, Xerox Chair and CEO Ursula Burns, earlier Xerox chair and CEO Anne Mulcahy, and former JPMorgan Chase CFO Dina Dublon. They put their careers on hold to nurture their wives’ ambitions and tend to the kids.

“These guys may be every working woman’s definition of trophy,” Fortune wrote in 2002.

Now, in 2015, maybe not so much. Stay-at-home dads are every bit as treasured, but not mind-blowing anymore. Couples shift bread-winning roles and arrangements around. Dads may not make up the majority at the playground, but their presence there doesn’t raise eyebrows, either.

Today these accomplished, wealthy, ambitious “alpha” women have attractive, important men in their own right, who don’t mind being eclipsed on occasion. Powerful women in 2015 can command what men did, when Fortune first coined the term ‘trophy wife’ in 1989 — an attractive, accomplished mate still willing to take a backseat to their companion’s glorious achievements. He’s a multi-dimensional status symbol in a high-powered relationship between equals.

As society becomes “more gender-neutral, an alpha woman is going to be highly desired and sought after as a partner,” says Sonya Rhodes, PhD, a couples therapist in New York and author, with Susan Schneider, of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Today’s Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling (HarperCollins, 2014). “Women always wanted sexy men who are accomplished. The cultural transformation is that the men have changed: Some alpha men admire and support successful women. Successful, sexy men can handle equally sexy, successful women.”

That’s not to say downshifting spouses, who do the caregiving, work from home or part-time or not at all, aren’t as important as ever for some women’s leadership. Dawn Lepore, a four-time Fortune MPW and former Charles Schwab CIO, relied on one. Other business leaders reported to have partners who were at one time stay-at-homers, though some may bristle at discussing it, include ex-WellPoint chief Angela Braly and IBM CEO and Chair Ginni Rometty.

What’s certain, says therapist and author Rhodes: “The cultural winds are shifting and the ideal relationship is a partnership.”

Here are five trophy husbands.


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