Eight CEO Sacrifices

When new employees make the rounds at the Connecticut headquarters of Pilot Pen Corp. of America, they are often dazzled by the corner office of CEO and President Ron Shaw. “Wow, I want one of those,” Shaw can almost hear them thinking. Of course he knows something they don’t. “People forget you have to pay your dues-on the way up and once you’re on top-and paying them involves tremendous sacrifices,” says Shaw, a former stand-up comic who humorously details his own trade-offs in his new book, Pilot Your Life.

Shaw would be the first to say the reward has been worth the price-and he’s not alone with that sentiment. The CEOs interviewed for this article say no other position affords them the freedom to set the agenda and see it through to completion, nor the opportunity to put together a terrific team. And no other job provides such prestige and remuneration.

The trade-offs CEOs have to make aren’t exactly new. But in today’s open culture, they’re more willing to discuss them, says Beverly Lieberman, president of executive search firm Halbrecht Lieberman Associates in Stamford, CT. “Fifteen years ago, CEOs didn’t talk about the toll their jobs took on their families and themselves,” she says. “They just grinned and bore it.”

Not anymore. CE talked with CEOs across the country who no longer want to suffer in silence. Following are the eight sacrifices they say they’ve had to make to succeed-for better and for worse.

#One
A Cozy-and Familiar-Bed

Ask CEOs what they most dislike about the job and most will answer in unison: travel.

Michael Bealmear lives in San Francisco, and because his $450 million IT-services company, Covansys, is headquartered in Farmington Hills, MI, you’d expect him to be away from home a lot. But Bealmear says his geographic location has little to do with the hours he spends in the air. “We’ve got 40 locations worldwide, and all the action is in the field,” Bealmear, 52, says. “I need to be at those sites at least five days each week.”

When John Haley, 51, was head of Watson Wyatt & Co.’s benefits consulting group, he thought he was traveling excessively. But that was nothing compared with his travel schedule since he became president and CEO of the global consulting firm. Haley now finds himself on the road three or four days each week. In a recent, typical month, Haley touched down in Toronto, Colorado, Australia, Singapore, Korea, and Japan.

Pilot Pen’s Shaw is similarly aghast that his itinerary remains so full. “I never thought I’d still be traveling this much at this stage in my career. It’s been 40 years of packing the suitcase and heading to the airport,” Shaw, 62, says with a sigh.

He notes that while he was on the road more days when he was national sales manager, his trips now are mostly international and therefore longer. “I’ve stayed in the best hotels and eaten in the best restaurants,” he says. “But when you do that enough, staying home with a tuna fish sandwich is the real treat.”

#Two
Junior’s Ball Games-and a Date with the Spouse

Whether they’re on the road or spending 80 hours in the office, CEOs also agree that it is hard to find time for the family. “Fifty to seventy-five percent of CEOs tell me they are neglecting their family, and they are pained and stressed by it,” says headhunter Lieberman.

“I’m missing a lot of my boys’ development-the basketball and soccer games, the scouting activities, church youth groups,” says Covansys’ Bealmear, whose sons are 13 and 10. “I try to catch up with them on weekends, but you can’t replace five days with two.”

Joe Kealy, CEO of International FiberCom, a $350 million telephone and cable service provider, was determined to make nearly every football game of Arizona State University last year, because his son Ryan was the starting quarterback. Home games at the nearby school were easy, but to catch the away games, Kealy, 51, frequently had to leave work in the late afternoon and fly back late the same night.

A self-professed early riser, Kealy says he’s managed tocarve out time for his children by starting his work day at 4 a.m. The unusual schedule allows him to log at least 12 hours at work and still spend evenings with the kids-although he admits that by the end of his day, he doesn’t always have the energy to devote to the family. “There is no absolute equity and balance,” Kealy says. “You just do the best you can.”

If there’s little time for the children, there’s even less time for the spouse. “Not only do I miss having a lot of personal interaction with my wife, my being away puts the extra burden on her to run the entire household,” Bealmear says, echoing the comments of many other executives.

Because being a CEO is such a public position, particularly in large companies, the family is subject to additional strains. “If dad is a CEO and he’s closing a plant or laying off workers, the children will pay a price at school,” says Patrick Sylvester, managing partner of the Philadelphia-based executive recruiter Banister International. Sylvester recalls a time in the 1980s when corporate raider Saul Steinberg was greenmailing the Walt Disney Co. Steinberg’s son was subjected to taunts from schoolmates that his dad was being mean to Mickey Mouse.

#Three
Your Running Shoes

The fast pace at work often forces CEOs to give up their workouts at the gym. Lieberman estimates that only half of the nation’s top CEOs are exercising on a regular basis, although nearly all know they should. “They say they’ve got to do it, but most wait. Only after the heart attack do most find the time for it,” she says.

For many CEOs, it’s the travel that makes regular exercise impossible. Covansys’ Bealmear notes that while most hotels do have exercise facilities, “when you’re working 80 hours a week, setting aside another hour a day isn’t easy.” Watson Wyatt’s Haley agrees. “It’s hard to fit in exercise when I’m traveling,” says Haley, who swims every other day at home, but not very often while away.

Other aspects of a CEO’s job that can contribute to health concerns include the pressure of making key decisions, traveling through frequent time zone changes, and not spending enough time unwinding. “Many CEOs are immersing themselves in their jobs at the expense of their overall health,” Lieberman says.

#Four
Tight-Knit Office Pals

When Steve Potter, CEO of New York City-based TMP Worldwide Executive Search, was one of seven partners in a boutique shop, many of his colleagues were his closest friends. But in the 18 months since they sold the shop and he became CEO of the new, larger company, the friendships have changed, he reports. “I can’t confide in them the way I used to,” he says.

“I still socialize with some of them, but I have to be careful what I say now,” he adds, because they may not be privy to the same confidential corporate information.

Banister’s Sylvester has had similar experiences, which often leaves friendships not only strained, but irreparably damaged. Two colleagues who were friendly as peers can find themselves at odds when one of them ascends to a higher level. “You can’t take it personally because you don’t change-the way you are perceived changes,” Sylvester says. “You have to accept reality and reach out for a new group of friends outside of the company.”

Pilot Pen’s Shaw recalls the day he had to stop sharing meals with an executive with whom he had worked for decades. “I’d be seen going for lunch with him and that would start rumors that he had become a favorite, that he had somehow been €˜chosen,'” he says.

#Five
Being One of the Team
People talk about business as a team game, but CEOs decry the loneliness of their sport. “You’re a marathon runner by yourself,” says Elena Prokupets, president, CEO, and chairman of Lenel Systems International, a $50 million security software company in Rochester, NY. “No one can share the pressure with you, which can make it difficult to bear.” Some CEOs seek counseling; others find solace in those closer to the office. Prokupets, for example, says she confides in her administrative assistant.

By definition, being the one to make the tough calls puts you in a different space from others, observes Bealmear. After he instituted a salary freeze at his IT-services company last April, for example, he became “the black hat” around the firm. “It goes with the job, but it clearly affects your day-to-day relationship with employees,” he says, noting that the salary freeze is usually the first topic staffers want to discuss when he visits their offices.

The added scrutiny can make some CEOs considerably more inhibited around the office. “Before I became CEO, I could be a lot looser in what I said and did. Now, as I walk the halls, I feel that people are reading into my every word,” says TMP’s Potter.

Shaw wishes staffers felt they could be themselves around him. “An employee once told me, €˜When you walk into my department, everybody’s posture improves.'”

#Six
Impromptu Meetings and Calls

Sometimes it’s the small things CEOs miss most-like the ability to pick up the phone or hold an impromptu hallway meeting whenever they desire. With Palm Pilot in hand, many CEOs are regimented in 10-minute increments.

From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.-and sometimes until midnight-everything in Steve Potter’s life is scheduled, down to a weekly dinner date with his wife. At 9:40 a.m., he must telephone one of the company’s officers, at 9:50 a.m. another, and at 10 a.m., yet a third.

“I’m [usually] a much more spontaneous kind of person,” he says, but the vast array of appointments no longer allows him that flexibility.

When International FiberCom’s Kealy travels on his quarterly trips to investors and analysts, he too feels that he doesn’t have a moment to breathe. “I can have 70 meetings in 10 days in 10 different cities, with every minute of my schedule filled,” he says. “At the same time, I’m CEO of a company with 2,000 people. I use the mobile phone or e-mail to try to keep in touch, but I really can’t accomplish any regular business.”

#Seven
Passionate Pursuits

TMP’s Potter has a lifelong passion for flying. But the 75 hours a week he logs now-taking his Cessna 185 Amphibian seaplane from New York’s East River to Boston or Washington for a meeting-is nothing compared to what he knows he’d be doing if he wasn’t the top boss. “I’d be flying planes all over Alaska,” he says.

Joe D’Arrigo, 58, also scaled back on his passion-sailing-when he was CEO of a benefits consulting firm. Looking back, he now realizes he could have easily quadrupled his time on the water, and actually ended up a better CEO. “It would have allowed me to step back and see things more creatively, and it would have enabled my team to grow to the next level,” he says. In fact, during the sale of his company to Blue Cross-the biggest deal of his life, he says-D’Arrigo was sailing with his family in the Virgin Islands. He got a call that the deal had fallen apart. Rather than rush back, he jumped into the green ocean and later went to sleep. When he awoke, he knew how to salvage the sale. “I’m not sure my mind would have been empty enough to come up with the solution had I been at my desk,” he says.

Today, D’Arrigo feels so strongly that CEOs should discover and follow their passions that he has founded A Tuscan Sabbatical (www.tuscansabbatical.com) to take top-level executives on a week-long personal exploration in Florence, Italy.

Sometimes, CEOs have to abandon passionate pursuits inside the company. Gary Reynolds, CEO of Milwaukee-based GMR Marketing, used to cherish attending the events his company produces, such as the Daytona 500 or the intimate rock concerts with top stars for Miller Genuine Draft promotions. “The sound of the engine and everything that constitutes a race is mesmerizing, and the concerts are superb,” Reynolds, 49, says. “Instead, I go to meetings. As CEO I deal more with the problems and trying to improve the system, and less with the exciting events that we arrange.”

#Eight
The Illusion of Control
You’re only one person in a firm of 500 or 5,000 employees. The competition is unpredictable-and so is Alan Greenspan. Still, for some executives, the belief that they can move mountains when they become CEO is a difficult illusion to shatter.

Watson Wyatt’s Haley was taken aback by his ultimate lack of control. “At the end of the day, it’s surprising how little power you actually have to do something. The media talk about how the CEO did this or that, but there are so many people doing it with him. I realized I can’t be the person with all the power,” he says.

Executive recruiter Patrick Sylvester says he sees this frequently. When an executive runs a functional area such as marketing or finance, he has much more control than a CEO running the entire shop. But because CEOs typically oversee one area before moving upward, they’re used to that sense of tighter control. “The larger the company, the more there is outside of your control, although it’s hard for many CEOs to accept,” Sylvester says. When problems hit-and the board, the press, and Wall Street begin casting blame-“it’s easy to feel you’re not up to the job.”

Relax, Sylvester says, because self-doubt actually is a sign that you do have control and are up to the task. “CEOs who survive accept that things can’t always be perfect,” Sylvester says. “They realize what they can do: Just keep moving their team down the line towards the goal.”

SHARE
Chief Executive magazine (published since 1977) is the definitive source that CEOs turn to for insight and ideas that help increase their effectiveness and grow their business. Chief Executive Group also produces e-newsletters and online content at chiefexecutive.net and manages Chief Executive Network and other executive peer groups, as well as conferences and roundtables that enable top corporate officers to discuss key subjects and share their experiences within a community of peers. Chief Executive facilitates the annual “CEO of the Year,” a prestigious honor bestowed upon an outstanding corporate leader, nominated and selected by a group of peers, and is known throughout the U.S. and elsewhere for its annual ranking of Best & Worst States for Business. Visit www.chiefexecutive.net for more information.

PARTNER CENTER