Posted 1/6/2004 10:00 PM
Work hard, harder, hardest — tech industry titans find it hard to let go
There is a crisis brewing in 2004. An entire generation of technology industry leaders might soon spontaneously combust. One minute they'll be sitting in their conference rooms and — foom! — nothing left but ashes.
This is the conclusion after asking more than a dozen tech CEOs and venture capitalists what they did over the holidays. The responses were so far off the kinetic end of the activity scale, it makes the rest of us seem ergophobic.
"When the economy is recovering and you are in the groove, you work!" says Alan Warms, CEO of Internet company Participate.com. Warms not only worked the whole holiday season, but also interrupted his Christmas Eve dinner to go downstairs, receive a faxed contract and fax it back. "Vacations are for recessions," he says.
After getting such hyper-responses, I turned to an author of management psychology books to ask if tech leaders are going to be OK — or if, as a society, we need to do an intervention.
"What worries me is that (the tech leaders) seem a little showy about their vacation accomplishments," says Katherine Goldman, author of Working Mothers 101 and other books. "People love to list how much they do, as if it's a competition. And the line between complaining and preening is pretty fine."
Take Mark Housley, CEO of
He closed a financing deal. He reorganized the company and hired a chief operating officer "to focus the company on being able to grow somewhere between 2X to 5X in 2004," as he puts it. He met with customers and with Glimmerglass engineers who were also supposed to be on vacation but who were in the office working on new products.
Then Housley adds:
"Fortunately, between phone calls and faxes and e-mails, one can go
sailing, cook an amazing carbonnade from a Christmas
cookbook, see all the movies I'd been waiting to see,
For the record, a carbonnade is kind of a fancy beef stew. I had to look it up. Thought it might be a drink, like lemonade but flavored with carbon.
But for heaven's sake, the guy works like a dog, goes sailing and makes his own vinegar from leftover wine. Now don't you feel really inadequate?
"There's no such thing as a real day off," he says. "That's why I made sure our home is only five blocks from the office."
Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts and CEO of his
new start-up, Digital Chocolate, took his family to ski at Whistler in
There were exceptions. Women responded a little
differently than men. Vani Kola, CEO of software
Notice the distinction: Kola put work things aside to do special interpersonal things; the men tended to put interpersonal things aside to do special work things.
Another woman, venture capitalist Magdalena Yesil, told me: "I took seven days off and cleaned
closets. It felt great. Went to
The other exceptions to the hypervacations were tech leaders who were not Americans.
Louis Woo, of Hong Kong-based Vision Century, went to a
Apparently, if there is going to be any spontaneous combusting going on, it will mainly be American male tech CEOs. Women, Europeans and Asians seem to maintain a bit of sanity.
Can the men be saved? "My advice (for them) is to focus on the outcomes," author Goldman says. "What are your real goals for these vacations and trips and projects? Is it about you?" Like, can you impress others by going on a luxury trip, or can you win admiration by making a tasty carbonnade?
"Or is it about how you're going to make other people feel?" Goldman continues. "All of this is very tied up with how you run your company. How do you make your employees feel — happy about their own accomplishments or amazed by yours?"
Of course, we don't want to criticize too much. The