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An Unplugged Vacation? Not for CFOs

A survey confirms that finance chiefs have a hard time leaving the job behind, even at the beach.
Alix StuartJune 18, 2010

Ron Fior, CFO of San Jose, California-based Callidus Software, recently took two vacation days to visit family in Canada over a long weekend. But while he made it to Canada, mentally he was still in California for much of his stay, thanks to the hours he spent on work e-mails. “The reality of the job is that it goes 24/7, wherever you are,” says Fior, who considers the work-laden trip par for the course these days. “You’re always connected.”

Can CFOs ever truly go on vacation and leave work behind? For most of them the answer seems to be no, according to a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs by Robert Half Management Resources, a staffing organization for senior-level accounting and finance professionals. More than two-thirds, 69%, said they typically check in with work at least once or twice a week during their summer vacations, only a slight dip from the 74% tallied five years ago. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed check in at least once a day and sometimes more. Only about a quarter said they don’t check in at all.

Of course BlackBerrys and laptops, easily packed in a beach bag, make it hard to justify not being connected. And given the unpredictable nature of activities such as fund-raising and M&A, many CFOs believe that an unplugged vacation is not an option. “If I can stay disconnected from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., that’s a really good day for me,” says Darlene Deptula-Hicks, finance chief of medical imaging software maker iCad. More often, she says, her vacations are interrupted, “usually by something like a fund-raising or other kind of transaction” that was impossible to predict when she booked her trips months earlier.

To get a little breathing room, finance executives say they try to minimize the back-and-forth with the office. “The key is staying in touch but drawing some boundaries,” says Cal Stuart, CFO of private equity-backed Rainsoft, who responded to questions by e-mail on, ironically, a vacation day for him. “Technology is either your friend or foe,” says Stuart. “I try to make it my friend by using it to free me to be on vacation,” and “to selectively respond to things without being pulled into long discussions or conference calls.”

If finance chiefs need more rationale for unplugging from the office, they can regard it as a way to bolster the confidence of their finance staffers. Mark Ellis, CFO of privately held Michael C. Fina, says he takes off two weeks every summer “to enjoy my family, but also to think.” He refrains from calling the office and says his staffers take great pride in not calling him (though they will if necessary). Still, Ellis confesses he checks the prior day’s e-mail each morning of vacation and reviews the numbers every Monday that he is away. “I will route things to my team but try hard not to respond directly [to e-mails],” he says, in large part to avoid irking his wife.

For those who simply can’t get away from the nitty-gritty of the job, there’s still a bright side. Says Deptula-Hicks: “If you do have to work, it’s certainly more palatable to do that sitting on the beach with a margarita in hand.”

Robert Half vacation chart

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