Ask High-Powered Men If They Can Have It All!

The WSJ asked 25 male CEOs about balancing work & family

The Pursuit of Happyness

Men have families too, right? And/or lives outside of work? Well, why don’t more reporters ask high-powered execs how they manage to feel fulfilled in both the domestic sphere and the C-suite? The results, when they do appear, as in this new piece in the Wall Street Journal, make for compelling reading.

How 25 Male CEOs Manage Work and Life

Here are some of the best quotes, including the pithy, the witty, the wise, and the most intensely “Cat’s in the Cradle”:

“When you’re younger, you have this sense of your own immortality and you’ll always be able to catch up. You’ll make it up to your kid or you’ll make it up to your wife,” says Mr. Glaser. But “your kids are only young once and you can’t get that moment back.”

“Work-life balance is working as little as you can to get the important stuff done and then taking all the other time and putting it against your family or your interests,” [Steve Hafner, Kayak] says.

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as balance,” says Logan Green of Lyft. “People talk about trying to find it, but I don’t think that’s very real.” He has two young children.

Green could learn from Eric Poirer:

Mr. Poirier wants employees to know that he has a life outside of work. He makes sure to mark time dedicated to his daughter on a calendar that everyone in the company can view. By blocking off her pediatrician appointments or denoting that he’s leaving work at six to make it home before her bedtime, he gives workers “that level of comfort that they have the company’s support” when things pop up in their own lives.

Some of these CEOs took a while to come around.

Mr. Goldenberg says he did a bad job at balancing work and life until 2014. “I love working,” he says.

Others say they’ve made sacrifices. H. Fisk Johnson, divorced, father of one, (temporarily) gave up deep-sea diving and flying planes.

“I think I do what most every other working parent does, which is prioritize,” says Mr. Johnson. “I have two priorities in my life, one is my daughter and the other is my job.”

The fact that he’s divorced kind of stands out, since the vast majority of these men are married (specifically to women). They’re still young-ish, on the whole. The Journal seemed curious about the next generation of CEO dads. And I am too! In fact I want to know more. How many of these guys have stay-at-home wives? Elissa Strauss argues in Slate that there’s no such thing as a “stay-at-home” mom anymore (if there ever was), but for our purposes, I’m using the term to refer to women who prioritize home and family, throwing their support behind their husbands’ careers.

One of the CEOs addresses this directly:

Mr. Hovsepian says he tries to be helpful around the house but acknowledges that his wife, who doesn’t work outside the home, absorbs the bulk of the load. “It’s very hard if you are both in key power roles,” he says of dual-career couples. “Something’s gotta give because of the demands.”

Another who discusses the challenges posed by having a wife who works is Mohamad Ali of Carbonite. He has two school-aged kids.

People expect executives to be on all the time — especially male leaders, Mr. Ali says. “‘You’re kind of the man, you should be working 24/7’ — I don’t think that’s completely dissipated in our society,” he says.

Mr. Ali’s wife is a professor, and balancing work and family in a dual-career household isn’t easy. Once, the couple faced a two-hour window to transfer their two children from parent to parent in an airport McDonald’s — his wife was flying in from a business trip the same day he was heading to Asia.

He’s right. Our society has pretty sick expectations of what men are willing to do to succeed, and how women will be there, invisible but capable, to do whatever is necessary on the home and family front, to enable them. The more we have these vital conversations, the more we will confront what those expectations say about us and whether we’re still really comfortable drafting people into those exhausting, narrow gender roles.

And then there’s this quote, by Satya Nadella of Microsoft, who has three school-aged kids: “I strive for the few moments that I’m doing something with them that I’m actually present.” The few moments. I’ll bet no one ever suggested he not choose to have kids, if he was going to be present with them so rarely. Or even just suggested that he watch the end of Mary Poppins and see if it resonated with him a bit.

Though I don’t know why Mary Poppins leaves, thinking her work is done, when Mr. Banks gets a promotion at the end of the sequence and will clearly disappear back into that gloomy building, never to be seen again.

Pat Gelsinger of VMware has four kids and has had to use a points system to make sure he’s around — maintained, of course, by his secretary.

Mr. Gelsinger says he’s learned of the importance of building “trip wires” and “accountability mechanisms” into his life to ensure he’s balancing his personal and professional responsibilities. One is a chart, maintained by Mr. Gelsinger’s secretary, that tallies points based on how much time he spends with his family. Arriving home by 6:15 p.m. earns a point, for example, while getting home by 5 p.m. earns two. Weekend days when Mr. Gelsinger is away accrue negative points.

The chart — which Mr. Gelsinger says he’s used for the last 25 years, modifying the rules somewhat after his four children left home — has motivated him. A “goal-oriented” engineer, he began cutting off phone calls that tended to drag on or saying no to dinner obligations if he knew he wasn’t scoring well on family time. It also cut down on arguments with his wife about how much he’d actually been around.

“Now we had the data. You took the debate out of it,” he says.

And we’ll close with the story of Mark Bertolini of Aetna.

In 2001, Mark Bertolini had all the trappings of a successful life: a “beautiful house,” “multiple millions of dollars,” and “the perfect family,” according to the insurance executive.

Then Mr. Bertolini’s son, Eric, was diagnosed with cancer.

“I realized how little I had been around. I realized how little my fortune and connections could help him,” Mr. Bertolini says. He left his then-job at Cigna and moved into Eric’s hospital room in Boston for a year.

He’s now divorced and in another relationship. It isn’t made clear whether his son survived.


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