By Dave Thomas
Business professionals know first-hand what pressure is all about. For many of them, they live it, sweat it and deal with it daily. So just how do they overcome the obstacles and define moments in their careers?
Mitch Thrower, the CEO of Active Europe Network Ltd. and owner of Triathlete Magazine, knows what pressure is all about.
"I’ve been afforded the opportunity to serve as CEO of multiple ventures, including
The College Connection Inc. and Active Europe Network LTD (the European division of Active.com which I co-founded)," Thrower noted. He is also currently the CEO of a non-profit, The La Jolla Foundation Inc.
"As CEO, you’re responsibilities are tremendous because you are the critical intersection of shareholders, team members, vendors and clients," Thrower goes on to say. "My job as CEO entails a great deal of human interaction; it also requires very open communication."
As a recreational triathlete, Thrower said he has always been able to swim, bike or run his stress away. "It’s very important that, as CEO of a venture, you are able to remain calm – and that you have a way to let off steam that does not involve hitting anyone," Thrower said. "Pressure is a part of the role of CEO – learning to work with it, rather than fight against it is critical, otherwise you’ll end up burning out or very sick."
Thrower, author of “Give Me Ten Seconds and I’ll Change Your Life” formally published as “The Attention Deficit Workplace,” and also a columnist for Triathlete Magazine and BizSanDiego magazine, said he remembers a few very stressful periods during Active.com’s ride up and down the tech sector boom-bust-boom cycle of 1998-2008. "We found that several things helped us succeed: focusing on reliable renewable revenue generation; building and working with a great team that helped each other in stressful situations; and maintaining a culture that encouraged people stay active," Thrower remarked.
Asked on how he would advise other professionals to handle pressure, Thrower said if you can, turn off the ringer on your cell phone several days each week.
"The pressure of instant contact from today’s connected world is enormous," Thrower said. "I am much more productive and less stressed out when I’m calling out, rather than just responding to inbound calls. As a CEO, everyone will have something they need from you, but you need to prioritize. Many of the things other people want you to do for them, do not build any value for shareholders – they just distract you. Try to run an open book company that embraces constructive criticism and realize that everything ultimately becomes public knowledge. Most of my stressful situations as the CEO of the various ventures originated with other people. People inevitably conflict with other people about something, so spend time helping people figure out how to resolve their own issues internally before getting you involved."
Above all, Thrower advises to make sure to follow his number one CEO recommendation. "Never let anyone bring you a problem unless they also bring you at least three possible solutions with it."
George DeVries, chairman, CEO and co-founder of American Specialty Health Inc., notes that ultimately, the CEO sets the vision and direction for his or her company.
"What kind of company will you have in 3, 5, or 10 years?" DeVries asks. "You are deciding that right now by the products and services you are creating, the people you are developing, and the vision and mission you have crafted. I focus on our vision, product creation, support of our executive team, and where our markets are potentially heading."
DeVries said American Specialty Health, like many other companies, faced its challenges along the way.
"Back in 1992, after five years in business, we faced a crossroads," DeVries said. "Was our company going to limit its opportunities and be an administrative-type company only or would our company become a fully-licensed specialty health plan in California? It became the most important decision of our young company. Remaining an administrative-only company would require little additional development, but would severely limit our potential for growth.
Seeking a specialty health plan license would require potentially years of work on filings with the Department of Corporation and developing additional infrastructure within our company. We pursued the harder road and two and a half years later we were licensed as the first specialty health plan for chiropractic in California and the nation. We worked many long nights and weekends on the application during those two and a half years. But now that I look back I realize that this was the most important project and accomplishment we undertook in the first decade — and perhaps in the entire 21 years of our company. Sometimes the more difficult road is the better road."
Asked to advise other business professionals, DeVries said it is important to surround yourself with great people.
"You can’t do it alone and (you) need to develop a team around you who shares the same vision and mission, the same commitment to excellence and quality, and the same dedication to making a difference," DeVries remarked. "This also includes your external legal, accounting, and expert counsel."
Having a fit business can be taken to the literal sense.
Jessica Thomas, owner of San Diego's GetFit2Wed, believes the biggest pressure of being a CEO is the responsibility she has to hold up to the standards she set for herself and the company.
"Unfortunately, the workload is never ending," Thomas said. "As an owner, my mind is always thinking about what needs to get done, ideas for the business, and how I can further help my clients. I may leave work, but it is still on my mind, even when I'm away from the job."
Thomas, who has been a personal trainer for eight years, said her job entails leading boot camp classes, conducting nutritional seminars, administrative tasks, making sales, advertising, marketing,
counseling, and accounting. For six years, she has been running outdoor boot camp classes for women, and in February of 2006, she started Fit 2 Wed, an outdoor boot camp and nutritional program for brides.
Ironically, her line of work actually helps her own health and staying focused on the job.
"Taking care of my physical and emotional health helps me to tackle the pressure situations of running a business," Thomas remarked. "Exercising, putting healthy foods in my body, drinking water, and getting enough sleep, all help to give me the energy I need to deal with the daily pressures."
Thomas said that when starting up the business, Fit 2 Wed, there was a heavy underlying pressure to succeed and not fail.
"I put pressure on myself to develop the business of my dreams, which meant taking risks in many areas," Thomas continued. "I had my husband's full support and I did not want to let him down. When I first started Fit 2 Wed, I had a secure personal training job with consistent long-term clients. However, I knew that in order to build the business I desired to have and for it to grow even more, I knew I had to take that step of faith by letting the security of my job go and grasp the unknown. There was a financial risk and initial investment that we only hoped would pay off in the end. If I had not left the comfort and security of my job, and taken those steps of faith, the business would not be where it is today. Praise God that the pay off is far greater than I even imagined and continues to be an amazing blessing."
Asked what advice she has for other business professionals, Thomas said that, "Do what you do best and hire the rest" is a great quote she heard and has had a major impact on her personally and has strengthened the business.
"As a business owner, it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses," Thomas said. "For example, my strength and education is in helping people lose weight, improve their fitness level, and leading the classes. However, I did not know anything about running a business and had to educate myself by reading, finding business mentors, attending workshops, and business classes. I know that administrative and organization tasks are a weakness for me and I had to hire someone for that job, which is crucial to keeping my classes full and the business running.
"In order for my business to continue to grow and expand, I have had to let go and count on other people. Delegating and letting go of control in other aspects is key to have a successful business. I'm still working on this one, Thomas said.