How CEOs manage their time

By Jayne A. Pearl

Time is the CEO's most valuable and most limited resource (other than capital, perhaps). So how do family business owners concentrate their energies? What are the biggest time wasters? What do they want more time for? Does technology help manage time effectively? We asked six busy family business leaders to take a few minutes from their hectic schedules to, well, describe how they manage their hectic schedules.

Get your messages by walking aroundGarry C. Myers III
Highlights for Children
Columbus, OH

Although Garry C. Myers III answers his own phone, callers need luck to catch him. He's only in his office 15 to 20 percent of the time. Myers is the third-generation CEO of Highlights for Children, a magazine with two million subscribers, and six other education-related subsidiaries that together produce more than $100 million in revenue. He spends most of his time in meetings or walking around the building, checking in with his managers and employees.

His day begins at 5:30 a.m. when he reads three newspapers. Before his 15-minute drive to work, he helps his wife get their 11-year-old off to school. Upon arriving at the office around 8 a.m., Myers collars Elmer Meider, the nonfamily company president, for coffee. Then he begins his wanderings, during which he asks questions, listens to problems, gathers the latest data on marketing, fulfillment, information systems, customer service, or telemarketing. Recently, he says, two things have eaten up most of his time: reviewing budgets and an unexpected Y2K problem he thought had been solved.

Myers clearly believes modern electronic communications are a mixed blessing. If you leave a voice message, don't count on getting a return call anytime soon. “I don't have a routine with respect to answering voice mail. I'm not good at it,” he confesses. The same with e-mail. “Sometimes it takes as much as a week. If I've let it go, I might have 15 voice-mails and maybe 35 to 60 e-mails. Whatever the issue was, it's probably been dealt with by then. I figure if people are concerned enough, they'll be persistent.” His wanderings enable him to respond to many messages from colleagues as he passes them in the hall.

E-mail seems to work better when it comes to family issues. Of the 13 third-generation and 28 fourth-generation family members, six work at the company and four serve on the board. All family members belong to a “listserv,” an online program (named Timbertoes for one of the original characters in Highlights magazine) that furnishes a digest of e-mail messages between family members. “It's a useful way to interact and communicate,” says Myers. “We discuss what's going on with our family council meetings and family reunions. Last year the big topic was trying to devise a buy-sell agreement, which we completed.”

He admits smoking is his biggest time-waster. “There's no smoking in the building, so I go outside once an hour to smoke. I've got it down to 3 1/2 minutes.” That takes a little less than a half-hour out every work day.

Plan and budget for fast growthWayne Gorell
Gorell Enterprises Inc.
Indiana, PA

“My dad spent most of his time on the phone and in meetings,” says Wayne Gorell, president of Gorell Enterprises, which manufactures windows and doors. “I spend more time on the computer than in meetings, putting together spread sheets, analyzing sales trends, communicating with the sales team and customers. ‘Snail mail' is almost nonexistent now. We have only one secretary here, out of 300 employees. We do all our own correspondence, all through e-mail.”

About a third of Gorell's typical day consists of talking to customers; another 20 percent is spent in formal meetings. But the first hour is devoted to voice- and e-mail—in between interruptions. He says most of the 15 to 25 e-mails he receives a day relate to sales information. “All our salesmen have laptops and communicate what happened the previous day so we can take immediate action here to service the customer. My background is sales and marketing, so I call the customer if there's a concern, before it becomes an ulcer.”

Gorell's father, Frank, acquired the company in 1947. It was sold to a foreign buyer in 1979, but after the new owners lost money, Wayne and his brother Franklyn bought it back in 1985. The company returned to profitability, but when Franklyn wanted out in 1988 the brothers sold it again. The new Canadian owners couldn't keep the plant in the black, and so closed it in 1993, eliminating 400 jobs. Wayne then bought the building and started up the business yet again. He bought all new equipment and introduced programs focusing on quality control. He reports that sales have grown dramatically during the past five years, to $16 million, as customers who remember the family's former reputation have returned.

Wayne now spends more time than usual on strategic planning. “We work on a one-year plan, because my experience is that most five-year plans just collect dust and meet their targets about zero percent of the time. But we had to put together three-year projections for our bankers, with data on our expansion plans—how many square feet, new equipment, new people, logistics, and so forth.” How'd that plan work out? Gorell budgeted for 15 to 18 percent growth for this year; so far he says the company's growing at a 40 percent annual rate.

Now Wayne would like to buy other companies. But he says, “I don't have enough time to spend on acquisitions. Luckily, though, I have a good staff who can do some of the analysis. That's an area I'd like to spend more time on.”

Make sure the work is done rightSam Kamaka Jr.
Kamaka Hawaii Inc.
Honolulu, HI

Sam Kamaka Jr., the 77-year-old president of Kamaka Hawaii Inc., still works on the hot, dusty, noisy production line of his ukulele (pronounced oo-koo-lay-lay in Hawaii) factory from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. His day is split between helping to make new instruments and repairing old ones, and training his 17 craftsmen in how to use the company's new machines.

Sam's father launched the business in 1916. The son was trained as an entomologist but took over the company after his father's death in 1954. His brother and nephew take care of the accounting and administrative part of the business from the air-conditioned front office. “I enjoy being on the production line,” Sam says, “making sure all repairs are done properly before they leave the factory.”

After about eight decades doing all the work by hand, the company finally caved in and purchased equipment to speed up and improve the quality of sanding and shaping rare koa wood. The company restores and repairs antique ukuleles, mostly those made by outfits no longer in existence. Sam spends about seven hours of his day making and inspecting new instruments, and up to two hours a day on restorations.

He also spends about an hour a day teaching new employees the ropes. Several of the craftsmen have worked for Kamaka for more than 40 years. “I just keep them safe and happy because some are getting pretty old and they fall asleep on the job,” he says. They won't be around forever, so Sam has been hiring and training others. One of the younger craftsmen is his son, Chris, 43. When Chris is not performing the uke professionally around the islands, he works under his father, preparing to take over eventually.

With orders still backlogged two years, Sam has no thoughts of retiring just yet. Although he admits he's not a great ukulele player himself, he wishes he had more time to teach others to play. “In the beginning we had teachers we'd pay part time in a room we rented next to the factory. But we couldn't keep it going because we're too involved in actual production.” He does, however, make time to teach his grandchildren, whom he hopes to someday lure into the business, just as he was lured.

Stay in close touch with sibling partners LaBronn Campbell
Campbell and Sons Oil Co. Inc.
Huntsville, AL

LaBronn Campbell is at his desk at 7 a.m., which is the best time to catch contractors. He can usually get hold of lawyers by 8 o'clock and bankers by 9:00. Then he deals with building-equipment manufacturers and operators of car wash companies until noon.

The 42-year-old president and his two brothers oversee the family's chain of 114 gas station-convenience stores and 18 car washes. The Campbell empire sprang from a gas station founded by their father, Claude, in the mid-1960s. Claude handed over the business in 1989 to his sons and is now retired.

The three brothers rotate their titles every two years. Currently, LaBronn is president. Tony, 40, now vice president, handles retailers and dealers in the stores as well as administrative issues, while brother Alan, 33, secretary-treasurer, oversees financial and legal issues. They only rotate their titles; each still oversees the same business functions. “That's the way our daddy wants it, so no one is actually over the other,” explains LaBronn in his thick drawl.

LaBronn's main focus has been developing new sites and making acquisitions, such as the 30 gas stations the Campbells recently purchased from another family business. Once he hunts down a possible acquisition or a new site, he pores over the target company's business plan. “There's a lot of opportunity out there,” he says. “We'd like to grow 20 percent a year, and last year we did do that. Most years we have grown an average of 10 percent.”

During lunch, LaBronn will either dine with a rep, banker, vendor, or equipment manufacturer, or take out one of the company's 40 employees. Afternoons are usually spent in the field, checking existing sites. He also keeps a careful eye on price surveys of gas, and works with the company's controller, who monitors the numbers to come up with prices for Campbell stations. “I report back to the office and check the price, to see if we need to change it, which we do almost daily.”

To co-lead the company, which currently pumps out $100 million in annual sales, the brothers stay in close touch. “Communication eats a lot of time, but that's just the way it has to be. All three of us have to agree to a project or we just don't do it. That way if something goes wrong, nobody can say he didn't want to do it. We just drop it if anyone is uncomfortable. It's a dead issue; no argument.”

Keep two businesses going at the same timeFrank Hall
Imperial Paging and Imperial Barber Shop
Lexington, KY

From Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Frank Hall, 38, is in his barber shop, clipping and trimming clients' hair. He devotes an hour before and after, as well as Mondays, to repairing electronic pagers. Besides his barber shop, Hall is the founder and owner of two paging stores that he runs with his brother, Richard, his wife, Chiquita, and their two children.

How did a barber diversify into electronic pagers? In the mid-1990s, Frank and his wife owned a flea market and beauty and barber shop in Florida. They noticed that a pager dealer near their the shop was always bursting at the seams with customers. Realizing that pager and cellular services were not yet well developed in Chiquita's hometown, Lexington, Kentucky, they decided to move and launch a new business.

The first store in Lexington, run by brother Richard, 46, opened in 1997. To provide cash to support the venture, Frank went back to trimming hair, installing a barber shop in the back of the store the next year. He opened a second pager place last year, run by Chiquita with the Halls' 18-year-old son (in between college classes) and 17-year-old daughter (after high school classes).

Frank is a busy entrepreneur who faces competing demands on his time and talents. His work often spills over into the evenings. “When we get backed up with pager orders, we have to go in and do repairs whatever time of day it is,” he says. “Sometimes we work as late as 11 or 12 at night and on Sundays. And we can't do this work at home. We have to do it at a repair station set up at one of the stores.”

Somehow Frank finds about three hours a day to talk on the phone with sales reps, pager customers who have questions about service, and local businesses. “I'd say paperwork and phone calls eat up lots of time, but it's hard to say it's time wasted because it's all key to the business.”

He'd rather be doing “more productive things,” he says. Such as marketing, which is on his mind nonstop. “My wife and I come up with different strategies at the dinner table, when we're out and about, or even on vacation. Our best ideas come to us when we get away from the business.”

One of their brainstorms was talking local retail businesses, such as convenience stores, record shops, and beauty salons, into displaying Imperial's pagers in their storefronts and letting patrons buy over the counter. The stores get a percentage of every sale and Frank's firm takes it from there. “There's no paperwork for the seller. They just have to sell them, then call us at an 800 number and we activate the pager and input the info into the computer.”

One day a month, Frank, the four other family members in the business, and their one nonfamily employee get together to “discuss responsibilities, changes, what direction we're going in.” He says the meetings also head off family issues that sometimes get in the way of business. “When you know one anothers' personal lives, you have to be meticulous about how you word things, so it's clear you're talking about business issues and not getting personal,” he says. “That's true with me also,” he admits. “I read things into what people say sometimes because I'm a brother, or a father, or a husband. I worry about the long-term effects on our family life of some conversations we have in the business.”

Take frequent short breaks to aid creativityDan Verrips
Verrips Taxidermy Studio
East Adkins, TX

Dan Verrips can't wait to get to work at 6 a.m. at the taxidermy business he runs next to his home on a stretch of highway near San Antonio. He and his wife, Becky, usually work side by side until 9 p.m. every day.

An avid outdoorsman, photographer, and hunter, Verrips, 44, was drawn to taxidermy more than 25 years ago partly because he was disgusted by the poor quality of the animal mounts he had seen. Self-taught in his craft, he veered away from the popular “attack look” on most mounts, which he thinks makes the animals appear excessively mean. He spends most of his time in the studio posing animals in life-like stances, such as raccoons lying over a branch half asleep. After employees skin and stuff the creatures, he devotes painstaking attention to finishing touches, such as setting the eyes or polishing antlers.

Although he approaches the work as an art form, Verrips's business is not without pressure. The backlog for a full-shoulder deer, for example, is six to eight months. But he punctuates his 15-hour days with frequent breaks of 10 to 30 minutes, to tend his water gardens, refill his many bird feeders, feed his fish, or trim his trees and shrubs. “I deal with as many live animals as dead ones during the day,” he says.

The breaks, around 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m., refresh him and help him harness the creativity he needs to “bring the life back to the animals as much as we can.” Verrips insists the four nonfamily employees log no more than eight hours a day. He also invites them to take short breaks to use one of the archery targets on the property.

It's important to leave work alone for a while, he believes, especially when things aren't coming out right. “Often the more you try to fix something when it goes bad, the worse it gets. When you leave it alone and then walk back in, you usually know what's been giving you the problem.”

Verrips, his wife, and employees share the paperwork, so it's not a burden for any one of them. One task Verrips keeps for himself is sculpting new clay forms for a taxidermy supply studio that commissions him to do this work.

Although he has two computers, Verrips uses them mostly to view pictures of animals he takes with his new digital camera. “It helps me study the animals better so I can create the magic look that makes it seem they're about to wink at you.” But the new technologies still dazzle Verrips, who quit school at 16 and went straight to work. “The computer might make the business paperwork more efficient,” he says, “if I can ever actually learn to use the damn thing.”


Jayne Pearl is a freelance writer in Amherst, MA. Her book, Kids and Money: Giving Them the Savvy to Succeed Financially, was published last year by Bloomberg Press (


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Winter 2000


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