Skip to main content

CEOs are sometimes just daddies without the misogynistic saccharine component

  • Author:
  • Updated:

If your father is a CEO, here's a gift idea that transcends a bad mug/tie/card/12 pack of golf balls (you should be mailing that today if you haven't by the way). Believe it or not, aside from the golden (but literal) showers of lavish wealth, CEOs are crappy fathers, which is what prompted Tom Stern, the CEO of LA-based recruiting firm Stern Executive Search, to write CEO Dad: How to Avoid Getting Fired by Your Family, published by Davies-Black. Stern used to be a former comedy programmer for HBO and has guest blurbs from pals Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. Fortune's Anne Fisher interviewed Stern about the book. What follows is the (slightly embellished) wackiness that ensued:

Q. Why do successful executives so often fall short when it comes to personal relationships like marriage and parenthood?
A. It's not that CEOs are cold and uncaring [they ’re cold, uncaring megalomaniacs] - it's just hard to bond with a kid via e-mail [unless that email is StiffyMail and your son is a teenager]. And those bedtime memos [One Memo, Two Memo, Red Memo, Blue Memo]! Not good! And of course, if you used to work at Enron, well, you tend to drift away from your family while you're in prison [unless you’re Lou Pai and your family consists of mutant shark humanoids on skis with laser beams surrounding your Colorado compound].
But seriously, a lot of executives have a driving desire [the Rolls-Royce Phantom] to be admired, which is why [they can listen to the Cardigans’ “Lovefool” on loop] they're drawn to roles of authority in the first place [although many are submissives on weekends]. Children don't care about your title [Lord Supplebottoms]. You have to relate to them in a totally different way [unless your safeword is “Barbie”], and it's a hard adjustment [to make a leather mask that small].
Also, at work, everything is quantifiable [how much you suck, in joules per second]. But with your family, you can't measure and control things [you can’t know the speed of a small infant and his exact location at the same time, because Heisenberg was a really shitty dad]: It's much more amorphous, and that can be frustrating. And then there's pure ego, the need for power and recognition [isn ’t that the id?]. Work is the place to get those things [you can’t do a Juniper Networks pitch without going through me, the spreader of the enterprise networking comps], so work becomes all-important.
I know. I used to be the kind of guy who would be texting clients [Lady Supplebottoms] while riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland with my daughters [if Dante were alive today what circle 8 would consist of]. It was nuts.

More insight into CEO parenthood after the jump...

Q. In the book you note that "a CEO dad's brain operates differently from a normal person's brain [CEOs have far fewer neurons in the lateral nucleus of the amygdala which impairs emotional processing related to higher cognitive function]." Is there a cure [a guillotine, occasionally Cipro]?
A. In my own case it took a traumatic shock [urinating on the third rail], but usually there has to be a build-up of consequences [often waxy]. Our society rewards narcissism and greed [or 5th grade aptitude, depending on the televised forum], so as long as you're being stroked at the office [dangling that promotion over the VP with the nice cans], your spouse and kids can become annoying background noise [what ’s the Miracle Ear for domestic life?]. The only real cure is to decide that you're going to make as many plans and goals with your family as you do at work [my first daughter will return 5% in Q4, the acquisition of a new puppy will be slightly accretive].
Create a mission statement for the family [retrieve the NOC list]: What kind of family do you want [one that produces several hit albums]? What will it take to get there [talent , Russian Roulette]? Approach it as you would a business project [tell the analyst to buy a tambourine and some harmonicas]. Do a customer-satisfaction survey at home [please rate your daddy on a scale of Federline to Warbucks], and really listen [to the bass-line in “I Want You Back”]. The playroom has to become as important as the boardroom [forward my calls to Castle Greyskull]. But there is no one-size-fits-all cure that will work for everyone. The first step is really just to see that you need to do something before it's too late [like the director’s cut of Knocked Up where Izzie gets an abortion at the half hour mark and the credits roll].
Q. What kind of feedback is the book getting from other CEOs [overwritten , mildly amusing at best]?
A. It's hard for CEOs to admit to any kind of vulnerability or failure [Terry Semel]. They're eternal optimists, too: "Next quarter will be better... [the sun’ll come out…]" People are defensive about this personal stuff [usually in the crane position], which is why I use humor in the book, as a non-threatening way of overcoming people's resistance to thinking about it. Some CEOs who have read the book ask me if I've achieved perfect work-life balance [ever done a kip-up]. But it's not something you achieve and, that's it, check it off the to-do list. It's a constantly evolving process of setting priorities every day [or the competing “theory” posits that priorities were set by an intelligent designer several thousand years ago]. It's like the old joke [what did the mitochondrial DNA say to the protoplasm?], How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change [damn , I thought that was going more in the “only if it got screwed by a creepy janitor as a young filament” direction].
Q. How has your family responded to the change in you?
A. They like me better. I play with my kids now [calling social services…]. I don't take work calls at dinnertime anymore [because I eat dinner at work]. I've accepted that, at home, I don't have the control over events that I have at the office [complete an asinine task for a CEO day], which is why most CEOs have trouble with family life. You can't fire your kids [putting them up for adoption is more cost-efficient and severance free], although I am thinking of transferring them, as soon as I find the right storage facility [military school].

Do CEOs make lousy dads (and moms)? [Fortune via CNN Money]