Getting Well is Good for Business

health-1“What is the cost of that to the company?” asks J. Craig Venter, co-founder and CEO of Human Longevity, a genomics-based, technology-driven company creating the world’s largest database of whole genome, phenotype and clinical data. Part of the problem is that CEOs lack the information they need to make smart decisions about health and lifestyle, says Jack Groppel, cofounder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and author of The Corporate Athlete: How to Achieve Maximal Performance in Business and Life. “Human beings are biological organisms.

In business school, [CEOs] learn how to be great managers and leaders, but they never learn anything about the biology of the human being,” he says, adding that mobile technology has created an “always on” business culture that makes it all too easy for CEOs to overwork and push personal health to the side. “Now, they have to be available 365 days, 24/7. So then they start to develop a story of, ‘If I’m not connected, something bad will happen,’” says Groppel. CEOs have to learn to set those boundaries themselves and then trust those left in charge.

Gavin, who was forced to let others take over, says he learned a valuable lesson about leadership. “As important as we all think we are, if it doesn’t keep working if we get hit by a bus, then it’s not working when we’re there,” he says. That’s taught him to go on vacation, to unplug and to reserve time every day for physical activity and recharging. “It’s easy to think it can’t exist without you. And I had a few moments of that when I was being told, ‘You have to have this surgery.’ But I got past it. Because what was the alternative? Drag the ship down with me?”

Fortunately, getting started on a new course toward a healthier lifestyle doesn’t require as much downtime as a major health crisis would. Executive health programs at top medical centers around the country offer comprehensive screenings in as little as one day.

Mount Sinai Hospital, for example, offers a 12-hour screening that evaluates participants “from top to bottom,” says cardiologist Dr. Valentin Fuster, physician-in-chief of the Mount Sinai Medical Hospital, director of the cardiovascular center and one of the leaders of the executive health program. Participants receive comprehensive lab workups and a battery of biological-function assessments, including cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, endocrine, ophthalmic and audiometric and dermatological. Before leaving, the executive receives an in-depth consultation and strategic recommendations to address any current or potential health issues.

Getting to that first step of information gathering is often half the battle. “It’s very characteristic for CEOs to ignore their own health, to think, ‘it can’t happen to me,’” says Fuster, who notes that in almost every participant who comes in to be screened, some unknown risk factor or potential health issue is uncovered.

Venter, whose company, HLI (Human Longevity), runs the Health Nucleus program for comprehensive screenings for executives, estimates that about 40 percent of participants who assume they are healthy go through the program and discover something important that needs to be addressed. One executive, in his mid-50s with no symptoms, learned he had a large tumor underneath his breast bone, Venter recalls.

A week later, he had the tumor surgically removed using robotics technology and he went home cancer free. “Had he not gotten the test and then detected it later because he had symptoms, he’d probably have had two years to live,” said Venter, adding that early detection can prevent the No. 1 and No. 2 causes of premature death in both women and men: heart disease and cancer. Once executives know the status of their health, they can begin to make changes. Some of the executive health programs, such as the Mayo Clinic, offer help in that area.

Participants in the Mayo Executive Wellness Experience meet one-on-one with a personal coach to review goals and challenges; then, they participate in interactive sessions on nutrition, physical activity and resiliency. They leave the center with a customized plan to improve their lifestyle and to achieve greater health and well-being—despite a very full schedule. One new development in the works is a “living lab,” developed by the cardiology team, which will show executives in an office setting how they can use the latest technology
and fitness products. Ideas include pedals installed under the desk, desk treadmills and exercise-ball seating to allow users to work on core fitness while sitting at a computer. “Sitting is the new smoking,” says Faubion.