Can The Global Business Leader Balance Work And Family?

This post originally appeared as a comment on Vinnie Mirchandani’s deal architect blog. Vinnie wrote about how Ray Lane was enjoying his new relaxed lifestyle at KP, and was unlikely to take a CEO position.

I met Ray Lane at dinner one time. Just us and a couple of other entrepreneurs around a table.

The questions I asked him were:
1) What do you wish that you had done that you didn’t?
2) What do you wish that you hadn’t done that you did?
3) What is your day like? What activities do you do on a daily basis?

Ray was very candid about how his choices had impacted his family life. As he put it, “I wasn’t a good husband or a good father. I got divorced, and I barely saw my daughter until she turned 16.”

Now, he lives his life very differently. He described how he never gets into the office before 9, never stays past 6, and goes to all of his young kids’ plays and events.

And he wouldn’t change it for anything. I’d be shocked if Ray accepted a high-stress CEO gig.

What is perhaps most interesting is that Ray also said he didn’t regret the choice that he made, and that he made them again. He judged that the success he had achieved more than compensated him for the cost he paid in terms of his family life. Not sure if I would agree, but perhaps that’s why I’m not running a Fortune 500 company!

I actually wrote a post about this a few weeks ago:

The question I asked was, “When your professional life is going well, is that the time to put the pedal to the metal, or to take advantage of your leading position and ease up on the accelerator?”

What do you think?

Since then, Ben Casnocha wrote about how Shai Agassi of SAP travels 29 weeks per year:

He travels 29 weeks a year. How does he have a family? Through his answers his attitude seems to be, “I know I’m not around enough, but they’ll learn the value of hard work through my example.” I like this better than people who say, “No, I really am home enough! I go to Johnny’s games!”

I could swear that I’ve posted about precisely this issue before, but Google swears I haven’t, so I’ll say my usual piece.

As a husband, father, son, and friend, I wrestle with the concept of balancing work and family quite a bit.

When I was younger, I thought that success was the most important thing, and I had a hard time drawing boundaries to protect my personal life.

The worst incident was when a strategic planning meeting for my first startup ran over, and I dashed off to a dinner with friends, forgetting that my wife was still waiting for me in our hotel, and had no transportation to get to the dinner. Let me tell you, that led to a pretty uncomfortable evening, and a rapid re-prioritization of the things in my life.

I’m prouder of the time earlier in my career when I was asked by my new division GM and a managing director and the #2 man of our parent company to attend a planning meeting. That time, I told them that while I wanted to attend, I had previously signed up for a ballroom dance class with my fiancee, and I was not about to stand her up.

Fortunately for me, and to the surprise of the entire staff, the managing director was himself a ballroom dancer during his college days, and he just smiled and told me to get to the class, and punctuated his comment with a twirl. This had jaws dropping around the room, since he was perhaps the most ruthless and feared man in the entire firm.

And I had a great time at my dance class.

The point is that while great achievements often require great sacrifices, you still have the choice as to what sacrifices you will make.

Not long after I had my dinner with Ray Lane, I ended up corresponding with Bill George, the longtime CEO of Medtronic who is now teaching at my alma mater, HBS.

Bill’s perspective was very different. In his own life, despite being the successful CEO of a Fortune 500 company (during his time as CEO, he grew the company’s market cap from $1.1 to $60 billion, a CAGR of 35% per year), he made time for his family, including coaching his sons soccer teams. I’ll let his eloquence speak for itself:

I strongly support your belief in balance. I used to take my son to day care as well. He may seem young now, but he will grow up very quickly. The time you spend with him now is very formative in your relationship, and cannot be replaced by spending more time with him when he is 20+.

When my younger son graduated from high school, I felt very proud that I had never missed an important event in their lives due to business. Now at 30 and 27 1/2, my sons feel like very close friends: we talk over everything and have great times together. Both boys are very proud that I coached their soccer teams for a total of 13 years.

At the end of the day, what is more important to you, your family or your money? One is a lasting legacy, the other just disappears when you die.

You CAN have a successful career and a successful family life – you just have to work at balancing the two every day. More hours on the job do not make you a better executive or a better leader.

I’ve mentioned my talk with Bill to other folks in the valley, who commented that it was easier to achieve this balance outside of the high-tech industry. Maybe.

As for me, I believe that it’s your choice whom to believe–Ray or Bill. I’ve chosen the latter path, and I’m willing to live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

5 thoughts on “Can The Global Business Leader Balance Work And Family?

  1. Chris, we may have a similar chipset inside:-) since we both linked Ben’s question to Vinnie’s “Life 2.0” post.

    Ray “judged that the success he had achieved more than compensated him for the cost he paid in terms of his family life.

    He may very well feel that way, and I don’t know his personal circumstances, but the “message” there appears to be a selfish one to me, only considering himself, where in my mind once you have a family, there is no “I” anymore, only “us”. Now, he found his overall life balance with a new family, but what about the original one?

    Of course if you take a business approach… you steer your company to success, there are business model changes, you do arrive finally, but along the way you used and threw away employees and partners left and right… it’s all accepted in business, but the same model cannot be applied to family.

    Unless of course the “discarded” first wife and kids are actually quite happy with the outcome, having traded a father for wealth …

  2. Guys, I do not think it is fair or appropriate to bring families into blog discussions …my intention in writing abour Ray was to say he transitioned in to a great post- corporate lifestyle (though not as relaxed as you may think) not to discuss his family life …my 2c…

  3. Vinnie,

    I agree that it’s not fair to focus on a person’s family life. In this case, however, the discussion I had with Ray was during a semi-public event, and I thought that his candor and openness about these issues were commendable and reflect well on him.

    People may choose to disagree with his choices, but they can’t criticize him for hypocrisy or self-delusion (and he can certainly disagree with others’ choices as well).

  4. Good post, Chris. As someone who’s in the early-middle part of a corporate career and the very early stages of family life, I’ve made the decision to try to learn from others about finding the balance now, not later after I’ve found everything out of control. 70-hour workweek? 26 weeks of travel a year? No thanks. I’ve got a kid.

  5. Then you’ll love my new book when it comes out: “Chief Dad Officer.”

    Look for it at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *