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Patrick Lardi
Member of the Board of directors of ST Real Estate and of Fidinam Australasia Real Estate

Why should CEOs care more about their time?

CEOs wield a tremendous amount of influence, not only within an organisation, but as a representative of the organisation to those outside of it. Each meeting they attend, each direct report they hire, and every attendance at a company event are given great weight and meaning for both senior executives and regular employees alike. Their presence at a table with members of an external organisation, which might include lawyers, PR meetings and media appearances also set a tone and message to both their own and the external organisation.

Above all, however, a CEO’s priorities are reflected in the relationships they choose to build within the organisation. Building all of these relationships and executing these tasks involve time, a CEO’s most precious resource, at which they must become adept at aggressively and proactively managing. Even for Tom Gentile, who spent 20 years as a senior executive at GE prior to becoming the CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, a $7 billion aviation supplier, effective time management can be overwhelming.1

“All of a sudden you have board responsibilities, investor responsibilities, and many more media responsibilities. They take an inordinate amount of time. The requests keep coming in, and the schedule fills up so much faster.” 

As time is also a limited resource, the CEO must develop a strategy for time management that builds these critical relationships for his or her success – and the success of the organisation – with an eye towards being able to achieve goals in the long-term. That may mean spending more time with one department or department head than another, or deciding to spend time giving interviews to the media instead of spending that time with product and development.

Let’s not forget that in their relationship-building, CEOs also face a precarious balancing act: On the one hand, they must understand the regular employee’s reality and avoid operating within a bubble; on the other, they must simultaneously build important strategic relationships with senior leaders who may quite possibly advance to become senior executives – or even replace the CEO one day.

In addition, they must also realise that at the end of the day, the board is responsible for ensuring the CEO is performing his or her job effectively. Not only will building individual relationships and taking full advantage of each member’s individual perspective and expertise help the CEO to succeed at the job, but it will also enable the board to succeed. This mutually beneficial relationship of the board and CEO, when built and managed effectively, can benefit the entire organisation.2

A day in the life of an effective CEO

The job of a CEO is all-encompassing and endless in scope. As the visionary and leader of the organisation, he or she is responsible for all that takes place in the organisation, from the tasks of regular employee to those of the most senior executives. A CEO must also communicate these tasks to everyone in the organisation and make the necessary changes when needed. A large part of how a CEO communicates his vision and ideas for changes is through the time he or she spends with key figures in the organisations, which take place during meetings. The question is: Is this the most effective use of a CEO’s time? If not, what other methods can he or she use to communicate his or her vision to the organisation?

According to a Harvard Business Review survey of more than 1,000 CEOs in six countries, CEOs work an average of 9.7 hours a day, with 79% putting in 3.9 hours daily on weekends, and 70% working on vacation days as well, an average of 2.4 hours. The average workweek of a CEO was 62.5 hours. Even so, most CEOs seem to realise the importance of a personal life and their own human limitations. They reported sleeping an average of 6.9 hours a night and did their best to keep up with an exercise regimen. The six hours of the day not spent at work was usually spent with their families, watching TV, reading for pleasure, or on hobbies.3 This work-life balance was incredibly important for CEOs, offering them perspective and gave them the ability to better engage with both higher level manager and employees alike in the organisation.4

It is also important to take a distance from the problem. I do not bring my work home,” says Carlos Ghosn, CEO of two multinational companies, Renault in France and Nissan in Japan. “I play with my four children and spend time with my family on weekends. When I go to work on Monday, I can look at the problem with more distance. I come up with good ideas as a result of becoming stronger after being recharged.5

The study, conducted by a group of professors from Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics, Columbia University and the University of Oxford, also allows us to gain better insight into how CEOs manage their time and build strategic relationships both externally and internally within the organisation. The study found the average CEO spent over half of their day, 53% of their time approximately a quarter of his day alone, 10% on personal matters (such as his or her family), another 8% on travelling, and a grand total of 56% of their time on various meetings, whether with one or more people.6

Chart on How CEOs Spend Their Time

Time alone, the study found, while crucial for inner reflection and preparation for the face-to-face time in meetings, was not necessarily allocated in time frames large enough in which CEOs could capitalize. Instead, most of it (59%) was spread out throughout the day in time frames of an hour or less.7

A tip the HBR survey suggested for CEOs to maximizing time spent alone was to avoid getting sidetracked by urgent matters – which included their inboxes. Most CEOs admitted that email was a common culprit that challenged their time management skills. Many CEOs also said that travel time gave them much needed time alone for the inner reflection they needed, and another tip the survey suggested was for them to avoid travelling with staff if at all possible.8

Time spent alone, however, was a similar percentage compared to the time spent with other managers (32%), including direct reports. Since these senior leaders are essential for the execution of tasks in the organisation, time with them is considered well spent. Moreover, when the CEO is directly in contact with them it can help create a more seamless organisation. As mentioned before, the job of a CEO is indeed a careful balancing act.

How CEOs can better manage their time at meetings

One suggestion to maximise the CEO workday was to make meetings shorter and more effective, and to insist on an agenda.9 “I like to have a clear agenda, know what we’re trying to get done, get it done as quickly as possible, and move on,” explains Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.10 Isabelle Kocher, the CEO of Engie, a French global energy provider, has done her best to set an example in France by shortening the length of meetings in her company and rarely scheduling any past 6 pm. “In France, we have a mania for meetings that start very early and finish very late,” she said. “It wastes time and creates rigidity in schedules.11

For meetings on a single topic that aren’t regular operational meetings, I’m very strict,” explains Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault in France and Nissan in Japan. “The maximum is one hour and 30 minutes. Fifty percent of the time is for the presentation, 50 percent is for discussion.12

Another way to decrease the time CEOs spent in meetings was to ensure that each meeting had an agenda and purpose, and that they involve the proper managers or senior executives.

Almost half of these meetings were held directly with the CEO, which is ideal for building relationships and confidentiality. Nevertheless, CEOs must create a balance between these two different meeting strategies. In addition, they should also allow time for spontaneous interaction with staff, which include meetings. This can be an important way a CEO can demonstrate his openness and interest in all of the inner workings of the organisation.13

It was interesting to note the range of time spent with a direct report ranged from a low of 32% to a high of 67%. When probed further, it became apparent that the range was correlated with the amount of trust the CEO had with the direct report. The most effective leadership teams in the study also had the full trust and support of the CEO for every individual on the team, and this was directly correlated with the CEO’s success as a leader. Many CEOs in the study expressed a regret in not being more directly involved in the hiring process of the direct reports, and in particular in not hiring a direct report that could both manage the organisation’s current challenges, as well as, foreseeing and meeting future ones.14

According to the HBR survey, while CEOS spend over 30% of their time with direct reports and over 20% with other senior managers, the rest of their time is split fairly evenly between other managers (10%) and the board of directors, consultants, and other employees, each group of with which he or she spends another 5% of his or her time.15

The most effective CEOs not only delegated, but developed a strategy with the team members, aligning each manager’s individual goals with the goals of the entire organisation. A clearly defined strategy is vital to prevent CEOs from getting bogged down in details and becoming purely tactical. Depending on the size of the organisation, however, developing a strategy can be extremely complex and time-consuming.16 When meetings lack strategy, they become a time waster and a major source of frustration among workers, often forcing them to take work home and spend less time with their families. Paul Axtell, author, speaker, and corporate trainer, explains that when planned correctly, however, meetings can be a competitive advantage for any organisation as they allow for cooperation between key players to advance the vision of the organisation.17

Among tips executives have for more efficient meetings: Meetings should be necessary, have an agenda, prepared in advance, and its objectives and agenda should be shared with its participants.18 Digital devices, including smartphones, should be left outside the meeting room.19 Larry Page, CEO of Google, advises not to let more than 10 people in a meetings and to never have to wait for a decision until after a meeting. Employees schedules will take forever to align, and the decision will be stalled.20 Marissa Meyer, formerly the CEO of Yahoo, emphasizes that data can be essential to bring to meetings to avoid lengthy debates. Elon Musk agrees, stressed the use of facts and not relying on experiences.21

Digitisation and technology paves the way for better time management

Technology also plays a role in time management of CEOs, contributing to both better time management, as well as, a distraction from the more critical goals. The majority of CEOs in the survey admitted that checking emails greatly detracted from their overall goals and wasted time they could have spent either in face-to-face meetings or time spent alone.22 In fact, one key complaint of meetings, according to Axtell, is that the attendees are fixated to their laptops or phones and not paying attention to the meeting.23 

Although many people believe they can multitask and listen to a meeting at the same time, research has proven this incorrect. But experts such as Francesca Gino, a professor who lectures on the topics of negotiation, organisation and markets at Harvard Business School, and is a published author on the subject, advise banning the use of all electronic devices during meetings. Besides it being a distraction, it can be personally offensive to staff when a senior manager or executive uses these devices during his or her presentation.24

Besides wasting time at meetings, email in particularly is problematic for CEOs as it tends to blur the boundaries of home and work. Seeing this France, for example, enacted legislation that limited email correspondence for both managers and regular staff after work hours. Organisations with more than 50 employees are required to explicitly state when staff can send and reply to emails and when they must unplug. This type of legislation can greatly decrease the number of emails a CEO can respond to during vacation and after-hours, contributing a better work-life balance and the ability to focus on the goals of the larger organisation without as much distraction.25 

On the other hand, an agile meeting management culture, which incorporates an effective meeting management software can also enable a proper coordination of relevant, corporate information between all necessary managers in organisations. Specific designed digital tools are a welcome addition for any organisation as they decrease distraction, and greatly assist in meeting preparation, meeting management and meeting follow-ups for managers whether in the C-suite, the board, or other senior executives.26 These types of tools are also instrumental in enabling quicker complex decision-making processes (including those that are asynchronous), immediate follow-up of decisions made in the organisation, and the replacement of live status meetings with automated ones. They also allow CEOs to prepare for the meetings in advance by giving them access to documents and files from any device anywhere at anytime.27

A Final Thought on Time Management for CEOs

The number of meetings held in organisations has doubled in the last 50 years, from 10 hours a week in the 60s to 23 hours a week today.28 Senior managers and CEOs have reported that these meetings are ineffective and prevent real strategizing, as well as team building. Since meetings comprise such a large proportion of a CEOs day, minimizing both the number and length of meetings in organisations is a good first step to more effective time management.

Even the CEOs of big corporations are taking meetings seriously because they have come to realise how essential they are, and their impact on the entire organisation, and ultimately, on the achievement of their company's objective. Even so, the length and purpose of meetings continues to be debated. Gary Vaynercheck, a US author and entrepreneur, as well as well-known speaker and internet personality, focuses on the length of meetings and says that all “meetings should be cut in half”, whereas Tobias Häckermann, the CEO of Sherpany, focuses on the outcome of meetings: “the meeting is over when the goal is reached, not when the time is up,” he says.29

Regardless of the amount of time a CEO chooses to spend in meetings, whether it’s with one department head or another, with direct reports or with a group of senior executives, one factor remains clear: how a CEO spends his or her time matters. Not only that, but this time affects the strategy and productivity of the entire organisation. Every CEO has to first individually decide on their strategy and goals for the organisation and then manage their time (and the amount of time spent at meetings) accordingly.
 


1. Nahria, Nitin and Michael E. Porter. How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018.
2. Ibid.
3. Bandiera, Oriana, Hansen Stephen, Prat Andrea and Sadun Raffaela. A Survey of How 1,0000 CEOs Spend Their Day Reveals What Makes Leaders Successful. October 12, 2017.
4. Nahria, Nitin and Michael E. Porter. How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review.July-August 2018.
5. Murphy Cait. Secrets of greatness: How I work. CNN Money. March 16, 2006.
6. Bandiera, Oriana, Hansen Stephen, Prat Andrea and Sadun Raffaela. A Survey of How 1,0000 CEOs Spend Their Day Reveals What Makes Leaders Successful. October 12, 2017.
7. Nahria, Nitin and Michael E. Porter. How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. The Wall Street Journal. How to Run a Better Meeting: Advice From Extremely Successful People. March 13, 2018.
11. Ibid.
12. Sciolino, Elaine. France’s most powerful woman CEO is a reluctant role model. Seattle Times. January 28, 2018.  
13. Murphy Cait. Secrets of greatness: How I work. CNN Money. March 16, 2006.
14. Ibid.
15. Nahria, Nitin and Michael E. Porter. How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018.
16. Ibid.
17. Axtell, Paul. Does your meeting culture provide a competitive edge? Sherpany blog. August 14, 2018.  
18. Ibid.
19. Daniel, Diann. Eights Steps to More Effective Meetings. CIO.com. September 26, 2007.
20. IdeeTransfer. Tips and Tricks to Make Meetings More Efficient. August 11, 2017.
21. Moon, Kat.The 8 Secrets to Team Meetings that Don’t Suck -- From the World’s Top CEOs.The Muse.
22. Fallarme, David. Run Your Meeting Like a Boss: Lessons from Mayer, Musk and Jobs. 99u. April 16, 2014.
23. Bandiera, Oriana, Hansen Stephen, Prat Andrea and Sadun Raffaela. A Survey of How 1,0000 CEOs Spend Their Day Reveals What Makes Leaders Successful. October 12, 2017.
24. Axtell. Paul. 5 Common Complaints About Meetings and What to Do About Them. Harvard Business Review. June 04, 2018.
25. Gallo, Amy. The Condensed Guide to Running Meetings. Harvard Business Review. July 06. 2015.
26. Nahria, Nitin and Michael E. Porter. How CEOs Manage Time. Harvard Business Review. July-August 2018.
27. Morris, David Z. New French Law Bars Work Email After Hours. Fortune. January 1, 2017.

28. Sherpany blog. What Does it Take for Leaders to Move from Traditional to Digital Meetings? March 29, 2018.
29. WELT. The Business Debate. Sherpany Sitzungsmanagement Digital Zeit sparen, September 10, 2018.

Patrick Lardi
Member of the Board of directors of ST Real Estate and of Fidinam Australasia Real Estate
Mr. Patrick Lardi was born in Valposchiavo, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. In 2001, he is awarded a diploma from the Higher School of Tourism of Samedan, Switzerland, and in 2013 he is awarded an MBA having studied an Executive Master in Business Administration at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) / University of Lugano.

In 2001, he starts his position as a Project Manager, at Swiss Olympic. Mr. Lardi plays a key role in the founding of the www.ilbernina.ch, which in 2004 receives the SAB award for media, and in 2007 receives a mention from the Pacte Multimedia SRG SSR idée suisse. From October 2007 to 2010, he is Deputy Director of Ticino Turismo, being appointed  Director of the company in 2005, the same year as the company gets a nomination for the htr-Milestone Award.

From January 2011, he holds the position of Associate Director in Ticino Turismo, with the task of coordinating and adapting the promotion and communication sector in the implementation of tourism strategies for 2010-2013. From 2012 until February 2013, Mr. Lardi works as a director of business development for the Tarchini Group, taking an active part in the opening of the Collina d'Oro Resort, a project worth 90 million CHF. In 2012, he founded, together with Dr. Elia Palme and Roberto Prato, the news aggregator Newscron, and in 2014 he became member of the board of Stagend - as lead investor.

From 2013 until 2015, he was appointed in the Board of Directors of the Casinò Lugano, and led the restructuring of the company. In October 2015, he founded Spontefide SA, and entered the Board of ST Real Estate Holding, ST USA Real Estate and ST Australia Real Estate. In 2016, he entered the Board of directors of Fidinam Australasia Real Estate.

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