Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The time sacrifice for a CEO

A friend sent me today's Wall Street Journal article For CEOs, Off-Duty Isn't an Option with the note "I thought of you". It's true, anyone who's worked around me for a while sees the decisions that I have to make around time and knows that when the company needs me I have to be there.

This is not because of a Victorian belief that hard work is good (while my loving parents tried to brainwash me on this it didn't take) or a machismo competition about who can work hardest (that used to drive me crazy when I was working my way up since I believe in results first). It's much more pragmatic than that.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for the health of the company. The buck truly stops with you. As a result, the livelihoods of all your employees rest with you. Their paychecks, health insurance, mortgages and college fees depend on the company being healthy and growing.

And, when the company is going through an intense time, be it a crisis or a significant change the CEO needs to be physically present to work through the issues; listen, watch and sense what the real issues are, not just the issues being discussed. That's why being on the phone is not enough in times of crisis or in an intense negotiation - you just miss the nuances of the situation.

I believe children do understand if you talk to them about why you're being away when you have to. When I took Simplex public I was physically absent from my family for 4 weeks, and mentally probably for 3 months before that. I used an analogy for my kids of a farmer growing an orange tree. I need fertilizer to grow my tree (cash for my company) and so I was selling the oranges in the future as a means to get fertilizer. And, as a result, I would be able to grow a much stronger orange tree - or in the real world a place of better jobs for people like me who also have kids to house and feed. My kids could still tell you that story today.

The WSJ article is right. If you want to be a CEO today you have to be willing to do what it takes and be there when your company needs you. No excuses. And if you don't want to sign up to that don't become a CEO.

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