Striking A Balance

Dec. 21, 2004
CEOs tell how they address the challenge of integrating their business and personal lives.

Dressed in black motorcycle leathers, the two helmeted figures glide quietly past the stunning mountain landscape atop a gleaming Harley Electra Glide Classic, a plush touring cycle. With his wife Brenda as his passenger, Jeffrey L. Bleustein steers the machine to its destination, the Four Corners Iron Horse Motorcycle Rally for Harley-Davidson riders in Ignacio, Colo. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself and say, 'Hey, I'm working,'" exclaims Bleustein, Harley-Davidson Inc.'s chairman and CEO. Fortunate to run a company that makes a product both he and his wife enjoy, Bleustein finds these rallies and similar events to be a way to spend quality time with his spouse. "We've found it's a good way to bring our worlds [business and personal] together. I think the challenge in this job is not to have those worlds collide. You have to find a way to meld them . . . ." As time demands on CEOs continue to increase, striking a balance between personal and business lives becomes a significant challenge. To understand how they address the issue of balance, satisfaction in the workplace, and other personal issues, IndustryWeek surveyed 2,900 CEOs from some of the largest manufacturing companies in the world. For this 29th Annual CEO Survey, responses were received from 179 CEOs (6.2%), with ages ranging from under 40 to over 80, and CEO tenures from one to 52 years. This information then was supplemented with personal interviews. On the topic of work/life balance, the CEOs say that work and family lives are interdependent. Work life, home life, and values must fit and mutually support each other. (Stresses and satisfactions of the CEO job are addressed in Turnaround Tycoons. In addition, IndustryWeek names its CEO Of The Year. For some CEOs, being named to the post was the epiphany that revealed the need for a more holistic, integrated approach to life. Most agreed that the quality of effort and time spent, be it with family or on the job, was far more important than quantity. Many have applied their business skills to overcome the major dilemma of their position: time management. The importance of diversions was emphasized, with the recognition that good managers find the time to take vacations and recharge their batteries. Some expressed a feeling of loneliness in the top position and a heightened sense of responsibility. Others spoke of changing relationships with friends and associates and the value of having a spouse who can act as a sounding board and reality check. Most agreed the position provides a rich experience for the family, and that there is more to life than running a company. "I believe that for people to be happy there has to be a merger of work life and the other parts of life," says Michael A. Volkema, president and CEO, Herman Miller Inc., Zeeland, Mich. "There was a time when I tried to compartmentalize my work life from my religious life, from my family life, and I can tell you that I kind of announced some four or five years ago [when he assumed the CEO role] that it is the death of compartmentalization for me. I've come up with a little saying for myself, because I think I did this earlier in my career: 'I'm not going to separate who I am from what I do, and never let what I do become who I am.'" Jean Stone, CEO, COO, and president, Dukane Corp., St. Charles, Ill., a family-owned, $80 million manufacturer of electronic communications equipment, also found accepting the CEO role to be a life-changing experience. "When I was at lower levels in the organization, if I made a mistake it didn't have a big effect on the company," she says. "Now that I am the CEO, my mistakes are much more visible. Who I am and my effect on the morale and the other people in the organization is much more visible. That has made me step back and look at myself in a much more holistic manner. It made me reexamine my priorities and become a more centered person." Highly achievement-oriented, Stone has had an intense focus on the job and admits having lost sight of her personal life. Recently divorced after a 10-year marriage to a man she met at work, she acknowledges that "career and work pressures were a factor in that." Since becoming CEO she has outlined new growth challenges for herself. "I get so much satisfaction out of work, but I've also missed a lot," says Stone. "I've developed all these wonderful skills to be good at what I do at work. Now I'm developing the skills that allow me to relax." One handy skill for putting life in balance is the ability to deal with doubt, according to Earnest W. Deavenport Jr., chairman and CEO, Eastman Chemical Co. "One of the characteristics of a good manager, a good leader, a good CEO, is the ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, and not let having to come down in exactly the right place with exactly the right number really bother you very much," he says. "I think that is true in your personal as well as your business life, and I think that if you can deal with the ambiguity that surrounds this issue of personal and business lives, that's something that would probably help a lot of aspiring CEOs." Worth The Sacrifices Most, though not all, CEOs feel the climb to the CEO position was worth whatever sacrifices they have made. And while most CEOs counsel young people to follow their own passions, they believe in the value of a career path that leads to the CEO spot. In fact, 70% of survey respondents said they would recommend their basic career path to young people. Few indicated they would have chosen a different path, and most see the CEO role as providing a rich life's experience for themselves and their families. Benefits cited include world travel opportunities and the ability to live in a foreign culture, exposure to a diverse group of people, and the security and lifestyle that goes along with financial rewards. Sacrifices that CEOs cite relate to personal pursuits and time with family and friends, primarily because of the extensive and exhausting travel the job demands, not to mention an average 60-hour workweek. Other negatives include difficulty in relaxing, a tendency to bring stress and moodiness home from the job,a diminished sense of humor and joie de vivre, a lack of long-term friendships as a result of frequent relocation, ruined marriages, and high anxiety levels. In fact, 19% of survey respondents said their health has been compromised by the mental and physical demands of the position. The CEO's job can affect his or her spouse as well, points out Eastman Chemical's Deavenport. Eastman is headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., a small town of around 50,000 people. The manufacturing facility employs close to 10,000 individuals who live and work in the area. According to Deavenport, his wife has had some upsetting moments as a result of actions he has taken. "Any CEO that has to make tough decisions . . . will get a lot of verbal abuse," he says. "I have some specific examples where my wife, at a doctor's office, for instance, had to listen to 'what a real SOB Earnie Deavenport is,' that he laid off this many people, why can't he do better. That sort of thing happens in small communities. Many times you become the villain for those people who are not beneficiaries of the changes you had to make, and your family can suffer as a result." Some CEOs warn others about the toll the job can take. Erroll B. Davis Jr., chairman, president, and CEO of Alliant Energy Corp., Madison, Wis., says, "I think you have to give up too much of your life to be a successful corporate executive. At least I felt I did. I grew old before my time. I encourage younger people not to be like me, and it doesn't take much encouragement. I'm pleased with their determination to live more balanced lives, and not be workaholics. "Do you know the song 'Cat's in the Cradle' by Harry Chapin?" Davis asks. "It's about a father who never has any time for his son, yet the son is always saying, 'I want to be just like you, Dad.' Then the son grows up and Dad wants to come to visit, and the son has no time for him. In fact he did grow up to be just like Dad. It's sort of a scary song. Whenever that song comes on the radio, I turn it off right away." Planning Is Crucial Many of the CEOs interviewed by IW who say they are able to achieve balance in their lives pointed to the value of planning. One of the challenges is to be able to schedule personal and family activities on short notice when business activities are often scheduled months in advance. Herman Miller's Volkema has a centralized calendar, kept at work, that his family contributes to and works from. "I got great counsel early on in taking this responsibility -- that I treat my son's tennis match the same way as I treat a meeting with an institutional investor," he says. Planning on the job can lessen the stress and worry that executives sometimes have difficulty shedding once they leave the office. "You need to plan even more accurately when you sit in a leadership position," says Gran Lindahl, president and CEO, ABB Ltd., Zurich. "If you don't do that you become disorganized and nothing will be done. You will experience stress as a result of that." Planning is half the time-management equation; attitude is the other. "The next step is, once you decide to do something -- say a personnel matter at the office -- you have to deal only with that issue," continues Lindahl. "You . . . go into that with full dedication. If I plan a Saturday with the family, I cannot work in parallel mentally. Then I [am trying to] do two things not at the maximum of my capability, and neither will be done well. Whatever you do, do that 100%. At the end of the day, it's not quantity that matters on any of these relations on the job or with the family. It's the quality of the relations you have over time, especially in jobs where time is your enemy." Inevitably there will be time conflicts in the life of a CEO that no amount of planning will overcome "Ideally you protect both sides, business and personal, but most times I come down on the side of the business," says Christopher Connor, vice chairman and CEO, Sherwin- Williams Co., Cleveland. "But you know what I think is really important? I think my kids are getting a tremendous amount out of watching the commitment their dad makes to a noble cause. As parents, the best thing we can do as we raise our kids is turn them into productive folks who are going to go out and do a better job of running our companies, our country, and their families. And I think there is a diminishing of the work ethic. So when I miss something, I don't feel like I'm letting my family down. I feel they are getting another dose of the commitment that has to be made to be successful. I think I'm setting an example that hard work pays off." As executives climb the ladder to the CEO position, their circle of friends and acquaintances expands. Relationships within the company can change as well, and can influence the CEO's work/personal life balance. While some chief executives maintain their friendships at work, even with people they now have risen above on the organization chart, one CEO noted the need to develop a new cadre of friends upon reaching the top position. "I can't confide in people as much here at work, because everyone basically works for me. At this level of the organization, I can't go to my next-door neighbor's office and say, 'I've had a terrible day.'" Also, statements made or ideas tossed out for consideration while in lower executive positions take on new meaning when they come from the mouth of the CEO, and can lead to troublesome misunderstandings. "You want to go back to your network of friends, your network of peers, and then you discover some of them just couldn't keep their mouths shut," says John H. Tyson, president, chairman, and CEO, Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, Ark. "Sometimes I feel I can't risk talking about what I'm thinking about, because now my 'what ifs' might turn into actions. So you move yourself into another circle so the 'what ifs' won't get out and away from you and become a decision that you have to try and undo, or manage around." New CEOs and others moving into high-level positions also need to be careful of some of the new friends these positions attract, according to ABB's Lindahl. "When you are promoted to a high position, you suddenly have people stepping forward that you never saw before, naming themselves as your friends," he cautions. "That is a big risk in this job. You must be very precise in remaining at arm's length until you know who are the real friends. When I promote people here to the two or three highest levels of the group, I always sit down with them and say, 'Remember that tomorrow, when this is announced, you will see a whole bunch of new friends. Don't believe what they say, because they are saying things just to satisfy you. And the same with your wife. Tell her that she immediately will have a bunch of women telling her how excellent you are . . . . They [will] try to create relationships and benefits [from] that." Life At The Top How does it feel to be at the top? Is it a lonely place? How the company operates and the attitude of the individual CEO factor into the experience. Harley-Davidson, for instance, operates collaboratively at the highest levels, with many decisions coming from the eight-member Leadership and Strategy Council of the company's top executives. "In top-down organizations, however, the CEO position can get lonely if you let it," says Bleustein. "Sometimes it's an ego thing where the CEO thinks [he must] -- or wants to -- do everything himself, and gets trapped that way. Loneliness for me comes when I see something differently from everybody else [in the council], and no amount of discussion is going to convince me that they are right, or them that I am right. And it's always one of those tough decisions where there are some unhappy consequences . . . . That's when it gets very lonely . . . . I have to do this one all by myself, and take the consequences." Loneliness at the CEO level often reaches a peak with people matters where an individual's future is at stake, such as dealing with someone who is not performing up to standard in a high-level position. "You have hardly anyone you can discuss it with, because that would put the person in an awkward position with colleagues," says ABB's Lindahl. "Then, of course, you are very lonely, because now you may impact the whole life of an individual if you take them out of a position, if you would do that wrongly. "When I was very young and starting out in a management position, I had a problem with an individual and I had to fire that person," remembers Lindahl. "That was the worst thing I ever experienced. It took a couple of months before I could step forward and had the courage to do this. I was almost destroyed as an individual. After that, I said I cannot do this once more unless I find a new way to do it." With that, Lindahl created what he calls a speaking partner, writing down "the key words that I think are the basics for my rationale to make a change," he says. "You become much more honest if you force yourself to write these things down. I always prepare this a few weeks before the upfront discussion with the individual." Virtually all CEOs agreed that regular diversions from the job, including vacations, are a basic requirement for a balanced life. "I have employees who think they are doing me a favor because of their absolute commitment to the cause here," says Sherwin-Williams' Connor. "They are here every night 'til nine or ten o'clock. I have guys who go home for dinner, then come back to work. And, you know, a person with a broken family, or a divorce relationship, or just a total lack of balance in his life isn't a good employee." The list of CEO diversions is remarkably varied. Keith Butler-Wheelhouse, chief executive, Smiths Industries PLC, London, runs up to 45 minutes a day, and likes to go white-water rafting. Michael J. Critelli, chairman and CEO, Pitney Bowes Inc., Stamford, Conn., skis, golfs, plays piano, and just took his 14-year-old to Greece. Michael Kao, chairman and managing director, Boto International Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong, owns a race horse named Super Treasure and takes singing lessons to improve his karaoke skills in Chinese ballads and love songs. Alliant's Davis finds his granddaughter thoroughly therapeutic. "She's one of the few people I meet every day without an agenda, that I don't have to be guarded in what I say. I can roll on the floor and bark like a dog, and she just loves me without equivocation." John Tyson finds a 30-minute, midday drive in the neighborhood a relaxing way to put things in perspective. "You see the kids playing, see other people in the street, and you realize what you were trying to make important is not really so important, that what really matters is your family and your friends. It kind of clears up the clutter." And for William W. George, retiring chairman and CEO, Medtronic Inc., Minneapolis, meditation fits the bill. He meditates at home for 20 minutes twice a day, typically before and after work. "It helps sort things out, gets me prepared, and relieves a lot of the stress . . . . Quite frankly, many of my most creative thoughts have come out of meditation."

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