01 Dec 1998
Managing the Business of Life
Five MBAs, Fifteen Years LaterTopics:
With the 15th Reunion for the Class of 1984 just around the corner, the Bulletin revisits five members of the class we've been keeping tabs on over the years to learn how they're balancing family and professional responsibilities.
We first interviewed Monica Dodi, Margaret Glover, Karla (Rose) Middlebrooks, Gwen Shuster-Haynes, and John Weber in June 1983, while they were still MBA students. Checking in with them five years later, in June 1988, we discovered many ways in which their lives - and their perspectives on work and family - had evolved during that time.
Now, ten years after the last interview, we catch up with the group for another update. Not surprisingly, much has changed over the past decade in their households and in their careers. In the profiles that follow, our protagonists once again candidly discuss how they are managing the business of life.
Entertaining Her Ambitions
On the "stresses-of-life" scale, moving, changing jobs, and getting divorced are all right up there. Any one of them alone is taxing enough, but Monica Dodi has experienced all three in the past two years. Yet the unstoppable entertainment executive, now a single mom, is still smiling and upbeat. "I'm happy and where I want to be," she says confidently.
Back in 1988, Dodi was living in London, traveling to the Continent several times a week to help launch MTV Europe.
By the following year she had left MTV, married a Frenchman, and moved to Paris, where she consulted briefly for HBO. After the birth of her first child, Daniel, Dodi joined Disney in 1990 to spearhead the company's European consumer products business.
In her first Bulletin interview in 1983, Dodi envisioned the future ideal of "a pregnant CEO of a corporation walking into a board meeting" while her other child was down the hall in daycare. But she says that when she found herself in a similar scenario - eight months pregnant with her second child, Clara, and delivering a speech to hundreds of Disney executives in Frankfurt - she recalls thinking, "This is ridiculous!"
Dodi explains, "More than anything, it was the travel that became impossible with children." So she downshifted by starting up a greeting card company that was licensed to use Disney images, and for the next three years she stayed put in Paris. With the help of a nanny, Dodi says she balanced work and family quite well, settling into the French rhythm of long midday breaks at home, reasonable working hours, and generous vacations.
"The pressures I felt didn't come from work," she notes. "The problem was that as a woman in France I was expected to do it all outside the office, as well - take care of the kids, cook, and entertain elegantly. The cultural expectations just wore me down after a while."
Dodi and her husband separated in 1996, and she moved back to the States, taking a job as vice president of operations with Warner Brothers Television in Los Angeles. "What I missed most about America was the attitude that you can be anybody and still get ahead in the world," she says. In the merger between Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting shortly afterward, however, Dodi's division was dissolved. Still under contract, she found herself with eight months of paid "vacation." "The time off helped me get the kids settled into a new culture," she says.
In August 1997, Dodi became president and CEO of the America Online subsidiary Entertainment Asylum, an entertainment-related content provider on the Internet. Despite the hefty title, she still spends quality time with her children in the evenings and on weekends. "I think it's actually healthy to have full lives and not to be together all the time," she maintains. "When we get together we have lots to share."
Dodi envisions resuming the traveling life once her children, now seven and eight, are in college. "I'd also like to get into politics," she muses. Governor Dodi? Stay tuned.
In the Right Environment
When we last caught up with Margaret Glover, she had just left her position as director of planning and information services for Clean Sites, Inc., a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit involved in hazardous-waste cleanup, to become an environmental consultant. She made the switch, at least in part, so that she could have greater flexibility in her work as well as in her lifestyle. One of her clients, General Electric, soon hired her as a program manager in the Corporate Environmental Programs department at its Fairfield, Connecticut, headquarters. During her three years at GE, Glover notes, "I saw every aspect of the company, from light bulbs to medical systems to financial services. It was a very valuable time for me because I gained hands-on experience applying 'quality' principles to the environmental health and safety arena. I worked with wonderfully talented people on cutting-edge issues."
For years, however, Glover and her husband, Phil Stapleton, had dreamed of starting a business together. "Phil is one of the best thinkers and practitioners in the environmental health and safety field, and I knew it would be great to work with him," Glover says. In 1993, they formed the consulting company Glover-Stapleton Associates, Inc., which focuses on developing environmental health and safety management systems for companies worldwide in industries as diverse as manufacturing, medicine, and financial services. They moved back to Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1996 to be closer to family and old friends, taking their business with them.
With her husband as a business partner, Glover is well aware of the way her personal and professional lives overlap, but to her, it's all quite seamless. "I don't view my life in compartments," she explains. Content with a more fluid existence, it seems Glover is living the philosophy she laid out in her 1988 Bulletin interview: "The happier people are those who have succeeded in integrating the things they want to do, rather than carving their lives into pieces." She says of her current arrangement, "I am in love with my husband and I love my work, so merging my private and professional lives isn't a problem." Glover is quick to point out, however, that she and Phil are disciplined about keeping to a regular work schedule and about allocating time for the activities they enjoy: hiking, biking, canoeing, and spending time with relatives and friends.
While Glover says she feels lucky, she also notes that more than luck has been involved in creating a life that brings her satisfaction. "We've been very conscious about the decisions we've made," she explains. "We've avoided acquiring high-maintenance possessions or going for high-maintenance careers. I think the so-called rewards they bring are pretty overrated." Rather, Glover finds immense satisfaction in helping clients create safer workplaces and a cleaner environment. "The icing on the cake," she says, "is that we simultaneously get to help businesses improve their bottom line."
As for the future, Glover eschews forming any specific long-term goals. "I think you have to just keep making good decisions that reflect your values. Life continues to evolve," she concludes, "and I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me."
- Some 78 percent of married employees have spouses or partners who are also employed, compared with 66 percent in 1988.
- Nearly half of all workers have children under age eighteen who live with them at least half time.
- Seventy percent of all parents feel they do not spend enough time with their children; employed mothers spend an average of 3.2 hours each workday with their children, while employed fathers spend 2.3 hours each workday.
Source: The Families and Work Institute's "1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce."
Karla (Rose) Middlebrooks
Keeping to the Middle Lane
Back in 1988, Karla Middlebrooks was on a six-month leave from her position as a financial analyst at Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, caring for her firstborn son, Arthur. Today, a second child-care leave (for son Andrew) and four promotions later, Middlebrooks appears to have struck the family-career balance she set out to achieve after leaving HBS in 1984.
"My biggest priority has always been to ensure that my career and family life function harmoniously together," says Middlebrooks, who is now a controller for Chrysler's MOPAR Parts Division. "I love what I do at Chrysler and feel a very strong loyalty to the company because of the professional and personal opportunities it has given me. I also adore my kids, who are now ten and six; guiding them and watching them grow is important. I'm still committed to making it all work!"
Part of Middlebrooks's strategy has involved starting her family early in her career, when leaves of absence would be least disruptive to her advancement as a financial analyst. As she emphasized in her earlier Bulletin interviews, she has also depended on a family network comprising her and her husband's parents and siblings to "share the responsibilities in a way that makes all of our lives easier." In 1983, Middlebrooks had envisioned that after having children she would "take six months off and then get a nurse or live-in maid." The reality, she reports, was even better. "My sister-in-law was staying at home with her own children and offered to take care of my two as well." That arrangement afforded Middlebrooks precious peace of mind at work, knowing her children were in a safe, loving, and familiar environment. In addition, she credits husband William, who owns a customer service and training firm, with sharing equally in child-rearing obligations. "The responsibility shifts between us, depending on who has the most urgent priorities at work," she says.
Middlebrooks says her return to Chrysler after her first maternity leave was also eased by the advent of the laptop computer. "My boss didn't mind, for example, if I occasionally did my work at home while caring for a sick child," she notes. "Because of the technology and a management focus on the end result, I was given a lot of flexibility I might not otherwise have had." In turn, Middlebrooks passes on the goodwill to her staff. "As a manager who has had opportunities for flexibility throughout my career, I feel compelled to look for ways to help my employees," she says.
If she has any regrets about the course of her life over the last decade, Middlebrooks is hard-pressed to find them. "If working part-time had been available to me, I might have considered that as an option," she allows. "But that's the only thing I would have done differently. When I look back at what I've accomplished, I see I've worked hard to get where I am, and I appreciate the rewards that have come in the form of a loving, healthy family and a satisfying career."
—Nancy O. Perry
The Write Stuff
When last we spoke with Gwen Shuster-Haynes in 1988, a layoff from her job as a financial analyst at the United Bank of Denver had provided her with an unexpected opportunity to try out stay-at-home motherhood with her then 21-month-old daughter Alexandra and to explore her ambition to write.
Today, Shuster-Haynes is the proud mother of three children and the proud author of four novels. Her intense satisfaction over these accomplishments is heightened by the fact that neither has come easily.
"My original - and very ambitious - plan out of HBS was to have a mail-order business, kids, and write a book every three years," says the lively Denver resident. "But the loss of three pregnancies and thirteen years on the infertility treadmill made me doubly committed to motherhood."
The determination of Shuster-Haynes and her husband, Mark Haynes, eventually led them to Nepal, where in late 1994 they adopted Bobby, an undernourished 20-month-old whose birth mother could not afford to care for him. Less than six months later, a tip from HBS classmate J. Thomas Kolepp (MBA '84) led to the adoption of American-born Sarah, a premature infant who needed round-the-clock attention.
Given her husband's busy career as a trial attorney in corporate litigation, Shuster-Haynes has been the primary caregiver for their children. She maintains a disciplined writing schedule, as well, by carving out time while the children are in school and by working late at night. "Twice a year, I also lock myself in a hotel room for three days straight in front of a computer," she laughs. Although she hasn't yet been published, she is busy creating a new mystery subgenre - the business mystery - in which a gutsy MBA protagonist encounters murder and intrigue in the corporate world.
Looking back on the attitudes she expressed in her first Bulletin interview, Shuster-Haynes notes, "I find it so arrogant that I said, ŒMy husband and I will have the good fortune to afford quality child care.' Assuming everyone naturally wants to put kids in child care! That didn't turn out to be the case when I was faced with the reality of what I'd sacrifice with my children by doing so." Although she admits to feeling "a twinge of envy" when she hears classmates talk about work projects or travel plans, she says she has no regrets. "On the happiness barometer, I'm way up there," she says, noting proudly that in the fall her children entered middle school, kindergarten, and preschool. "Now I've also got a little more time to write," she adds.
Shuster-Haynes says her experiences in Nepal have helped shift her perspectives on wealth as well. "I may not have the net worth of some of my classmates, but after having witnessed such extreme poverty," she says, "I realize how incredibly rich I am." She and her husband also support the care of their son Bobby's siblings in Nepal, and Shuster-Haynes is helping raise funds to build a pediatric wing for a hospital in the Kathmandu Valley. "Success to me means maintaining balance and making a difference in the world," she says. "By that count, I definitely have it all.'"
How flexible is the worklplace?
- Forty-five percent of employees report having some say over their scheduled work hours.
- About 19 percent spend at least part of their regular workweek working at home.
- Two-thirds of workers can easily take time off during the workday to address family or personal matters.
- Half are able to take a few days off to care for sick children without losing pay or vacation time.
Source: The Families and Work Institute's "1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce."
John Weber's career over the past decade has progressed as many only dream. He has moved successfully through a series of increasingly important assignments at companies such as General Electric and Baxter International. Last summer, his hard-driving management style was the subject of a front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal. And, at the age of 42, the father of twelve-year-old twins Mark and Melissa has become president and COO of a $5-billion energy company.
But dream careers have their price, the highest of which, he says, has been missing out on his home life. "Most of the time I end up sacrificing a fair bit on the family side," admits Weber, who in August resigned as president of Vickers Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic pumps and motors in Toledo, Ohio, and moved his family to Denver to join KN Energy, a natural gas company. "I still find to be true what I told the Bulletin ten years ago: you can't have it all. You inevitably have to give something up."
Weber recalls, for example, missing his children's birthday party because he was in India for the board meeting of a Vickers subsidiary. "I like to be home for those celebrations," he says regretfully. But if Weber occasionally can't make family gatherings, it's not for lack of trying. Consider the events of a Saturday last winter, when Vickers was in the middle of an acquisition deal:
"In the morning I took my son to his hockey game and sat in the stands talking to lawyers on a cell phone," Weber says. "After that, I headed to the office, got tied up with the deal, and unfortunately had to ask another parent to drive my daughter and her team to their basketball game. I made it to the game but had to run back to the office for a late-night negotiating session, which caused me to miss my wife Joan's dinner party. And then, at the end of the whole thing, the deal fell apart."
Although the drawbacks of sitting on top of the corporate ladder may be weekends like this, Weber says one of the benefits of seniority is that he has more control over his own schedule. "Now I am the guy who actually calls the meetings instead of having to be there when they get called," he says. Such control has also meant being able to take time out to recharge his own batteries. Last spring, he went soaring in his sailplane in the Canadian Rockies with some friends and during business trips to India he visited an ashram for meditation.
"I'm excited that the CEO of my new company talks about success in three dimensions: in business, in your personal life, and in your spiritual life," Weber notes. "KN Energy's domestic focus also means I'm no longer so jet-lagged that I don't know what time it is. And I'm not out of the country for birthday parties anymore," he smiles.
—Dun Gifford, Jr.