Ted Gavin is the first to admit that health was not a priority before the incident that changed his life. He worked constantly, exercised rarely and ate one meal a day, usually late at night. “I was probably the textbook example of a Type-A person for whom health was a remote afterthought to all the demands of work and schedule and family and other obligations,” says Gavin, founding partner and managing director of bankruptcy consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese. A little over a year ago, Gavin, who plays guitar and bass with a band during his rare free time, was rehearsing for a gig in Seattle when he slipped and fell, breaking both wrists.
“They took my blood pressure and it was perfectly normal—for two healthy men,” he recalls. That led to a battery of tests, which ultimately showed a 100 percent blockage in his right coronary artery. “I should have been dead,” he says.
After a triple bypass, Gavin had six weeks of recuperation time to think about his life and priorities—and he decided to make some changes. Today, Gavin is 50 pounds lighter. He exercises every day and eats a mainly vegan diet with small, healthy meals. His heart function now is better than normal. He still works hard, but now he takes time out to reboot. At night, he leaves his mobile phone charging in the other room.
“You’re never going to remember the long list of things you did instead of taking care of yourself. But you will remember the things that happened because you didn’t take care of yourself,” says Gavin, who is married and has two children. “And if you’re not around to do it, the people who care about you will remember.”
Neglecting health and exercise is not a foible unique to CEOs, notes Stephanie Faubion, director of the executive and international health program at Mayo Clinic. “Many of us are more proactive about getting the oil changed in our cars than taking care of our own health.”
But for CEOs and others at the highest corporate levels, an unhealthy lifestyle can often be an occupational hazard. Packed schedules coupled with intense pressure to satisfy stake
Look holders makes self-care challenging for even the most well-intentioned CEOs. It doesn’t help that top executives—accomplished, high-energy, high-stamina—are conditioned to view themselves as somewhat more immune to physical ailments or human limitations and, therefore, often push themselves into overdrive for long stretches.
But CEOs are human, says Faubion. “You can go 100 miles an hour, but it’s only a matter of time before things start to break down if you aren’t paying attention.” Over time, overwork, lack of exercise, poor eating habits and sleep deprivation take their toll on the system, leading to health problems that can eventually cause major events that affect not only the individual CEO but his or her company.
Last October, United Airlines suffered a setback in its turnaround plan when newly minted CEO Oscar Munoz suffered a massive heart attack just over a month into the job. In the weeks leading up to his heart attack, Munoz reportedly worked around the clock, flying about the country to meet with disgruntled employees and dissatisfied customers. He was determined to put the company back on course following years of lagging performance since the merger with Continental in 2010. Instead, United was forced to implement an interim solution while Munoz was sidelined for months following the heart attack and heart transplant surgery.