Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Week in the Life

How CEOs Divide Their Time

 ~ According to the Wall Street Journal, the typical CEO of a Fortune 500 company spends about a third of his work time in meetings:
In one sample of 65 CEOs, executives spent roughly 18 hours of a 55-hour workweek in meetings, more than three hours on calls and five hours in business meals, on average.
This doesn't surprise me.

What does surprise me, however, is that they spend more time—20 hours a week—on things most of us do not consider work: "Travel, exercise, personal appointments and other activities."

The CEO work week on average

In the comments section many deride excessive meetings as the result of poor management, and suggest they could be greatly reduced if there were better organizational communication, starting of course at the top. Meetings, says former Python John Cleese, are comprised of 2-4 substantive participants and a room full of hostages. Still, meetings have their value if the agenda is clear, the execution crisp, the focus entirely on outcomes, with follow-through and follow-up on decisions, and participation limited to exclude any hostages. Rather like the business as a whole, really. Meetings are management too, and like management in general, can be effective and efficient, or terrible and trying.

It certainly is surprising that the CEOs spend so little time "working alone" on such things as formulating strategy, writing, planning and thinking about the business. Perhaps the survey under-counts such time, as some of those things can certainly be done while exercising or traveling.

In some ways, the most fascinating thing about this survey is how little time these CEOs appear to spend working overall. 55 hours? Really? For fun, I compared a recent work week of mine. I had 9 hours of meetings, 3 hours of phone calls, 0 hours of conference calls, 3 hours of public events, 0 hours of business meals, 51 hours of working alone, and 16 hours of "miscellaneous" for a total of 81 hours. (Since I work 7 days a week, this makes for a tolerable daily average, although individual days can vary widely.) If we omit the miscellaneous category, the CEOs spend a scant 35 hours a week actually working, much like the typical European! 66 for me; I'm no Carlos Ghosn certainly, but I do head several businesses. I might work fewer hours if I had fewer companies. (Or not!)

Considering how much time these CEOs spend in meetings, and how much work time is actually personal time, it begs the question: working hard or hardly working? Given the Brobdingnagian compensation they enjoy it certainly appears to be very nice "work" if you can get it.

The next time the WSJ does a survey of CEOs they should seek to categorize time differently. People can argue about the merit of meetings, and it is true that some are better than others just as some of the leaders who run them are better than others. I'm much less interested in the mechanics of how the CEOs spend time. I'd like to know how their time is divided functionally. Let's see how those 55 hours are divvied between strategic planning, personnel issues, finance, investors, customer relations, sales, and so on.


  1. I'm a little surprised to know that CEO's have over 1/3 of supposed work hours to themselves. One would think that they'd have a lot more on their plates considering they are the head of the company.

    business consultants

  2. They do have more on their plates, but then look at the overall state of American business. Many huge corporations straddling the globe and increasingly dominating debate and direction far outside of their actual core business while the majority of (mostly smaller) businesses struggle fecklessly against global trends. Too many leaders are in their positions through accident or cronyism and lack the strategic insight and tactical discipline to be competitive and grow.

    The good news is that there are ample opportunities for consultants and venture specialists (like me!) to help them grow and prosper.