Forbes - October 10, 2013 - by Karsten Strauss
As a rule, there aren’t many of them: those fast-thinking, hyper-successful CEOs that have their companies on the move, setting strategy for the short term and the long haul, always ready with an all-important pivot, keeping investors happy in one room, developing radical new tactics with a visionary’s confidence in the next, all the while holding competition at bay.
Indeed, they are a special breed.
But being a top business executive involves more than simply sipping scotch and gazing wistfully out the window of a high-rise corner office. It takes some work, sometimes a lot of work.
We asked the heads of enterprises in the upper echelon FORBES’ top small companies list what they do on an average day. As they told us, some themes began to emerge.
Whether reaching out to investors and customers or in a huddle with employees, top CEOs spend more time managing relationships than doing just about anything else. Effectiveness in that arena, it seems, is the cornerstone of any leader’s success.
“Once I get to the brewery, I’m meeting and interacting with our people: from beer taste panels to board meetings, to conversations with hops dealers and interviewing new employees,” says Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams and Boston Brewing Company, which ranked 12th on FORBES’ list.
When he’s not meeting with people, InvenSense CEO Behrooz Abdi is keeping up with his own people. “During breaks between meetings I walk around to interact with the organization and get charged up with all the activities within the building.”
For Cirrus CEO Jason Rhode, it’s about quantity time, not quality time. “I spend the most time meeting with people inside the company one on one, either formally or informally.
"It’s more difficult to keep tabs on employees when you run a global enterprise in several time zones. That’s no excuse for not making the effort, says Arkadiy Dobkin, CEO of EPAM Systems. It’s the only way, he says “to feel firsthand what is happening in different parts of the company."
Any enterprise needs a strategy, and since few battle plans survive first contact with opposition, the need to rethink tactics never ends. “We have a series of a dozen key process improvement meetings that happen every two weeks,” says Brian Mueller, CEO of Grand Canyon Education, 2nd on our list. “We literally look at every aspect of the university’s business in some form or fashion in those 12 meetings, and those meetings keep the university moving forward.”
Says Brad Cleveland, head of Proto Labs: “Tuesdays I typically dedicate to the hottest project of the moment, which could be the planning of a new Japan facility, the addition of the latest U.S. facility or just the negotiation of a new banking relationship alongside my CFO.”
Packaged foods company Annie’s Homegrown is headed by John Foraker, a leader that divides his days into blocks of focus. About 40% of his workdays, he says, go to planning ahead. “I try to focus on what the business will be doing 18 to 36 months from now, laying the foundation for future growth and opportunity for the business and brand.”
If you want to go places in the business world, you’ve got to go places. Travel is a fact of life for a CEO.
“When I’m travelling, I’m out on the road selling beer all day just as I did on day one,” says Koch. “I meet with wholesalers and visit bars and restaurants at night and talk to drinkers about beer. When I was starting out, I spent every night in bars talking to people about beer, sampling my beer, and educating drinkers on what full-flavored craft beer was all about. Not much has changed since then.”
Silica Holdings CEO Bryan Shinn spends time on the road meeting with investors and maintaining key contacts. “That’s something that only the CEO does on a frequent basis. Building relationships with key customers at a senior level is really important.”
Mike Fifer, the head of firearms manufacturer Sturm Ruger, finds himself on the road a lot too. “I typically travel somewhere each week, whether to one of our factories, or to see wholesale customers or retailers. Several times a year I will work retail promotions so that I’m interacting directly with our consumers. And I regularly spend time testing our new products using them at one of our factory ranges or in the field or at shooting schools.”
Healthy body, healthy mind. Is that true? Well, it’s debatable.
Those at the top of successful companies pay attention to their health and take time to work up a sweat in the gym.
“Three to five times a week the company’s general counsel and I go to the gym,” says Harry Herington, CEO of eGovernment company NIC Inc. “Wellness is an important part of our company culture, but maybe even more importantly, it gives the two of us time to literally sweat over the hot issues as we work out.”
“I am an incredibly early riser and I start my day with a six to nine mile run,” says SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson. “These runs help me clear my head, think through challenges or issues, and prepare for my day. I do some of my best thinking while I am running.”
Fifer finds time to hit the gym right before work, after waking up early and checking emails. Koch multitasks when he works out, usually before he heads over to the brewery. “I work out in the morning and use that time to learn new things about a variety of topics, and try to find things I can apply to the business,” Koch told FORBES. “Lately, I’ve been listening to Great Courses and TED lectures.”
Original publication is here.