You’re the first in the office and straight on a call to management in China, followed by a working lunch with the chairman about hitting the numbers and in the afternoon you’re fielding questions from the media. Then you're off to deliver that speech at an industry dinner which means you won’t be home in time to tuck the kids in. Welcome to the world of the CEO.
Archie Norman, Chairman of media concern ITV and former CEO of ASDA, says: “For most high-performing CEOs today, their job is 24/7 and they never switch off. Every ten minutes in the day there’ll be some reason for thinking about the business – it’s with you wherever you go. For chief executives, there’s no day that starts in the office and ends in the office.”
It brings a whole new dimension to time management. Rob Crossland, CEO of recruitment company Optionis Group, comments: “For me, managing my diary starts with a strategic decision about how I get to work. I live quite a long way from the office so, depending on where I’m going, I’ve got to consider whether I need to leave early or late to avoid the dreaded M6.”
Steve Parkin, CEO of Mayborn Group, a manufacturer and distributor of baby and child products, says: “There are two people who are the most important in my role, that’s my PA and my wife, because my wife’s given up on me in terms of knowing where I am, so my PA is vital at keeping her informed as to when I’ll be home.”
A similar point is made by Leslie Van de Walle, Criticaleye Associate and Chairman of building material company SIG, and a former CEO of both Rexam and United Biscuits, comments: “As CEO of a public company you’ll have back-to-back meetings because you have different stakeholders to manage, from your own team to customers and shareholders… and you’re chasing appointments all the time, so your PA is managing your life.
“You need to train your PA to keep an hour in your day for last minute surprises or a crisis… If you’re not careful, you can end up going from one meeting to another without any time to think, which is bad because, as CEO, you need to be able to reflect on key issues, decisions and strategy.”
The ability to be comfortable as a public figure is essential. Tony Cocker, Chief Executive of energy company E.ON UK, says: “As worldwide energy prices have increased, media coverage of the energy sector has grown more hostile, so dealing with the press on results day wasn’t necessarily something I was looking forward to with relish. I stayed overnight in London, was up at 5am to reread my notes and then I was off to the car at 6.20am to go to the BBC and appear on the Today Programme , Radio5 Live and TV's Breakfast, to answer the same set of questions three times over in different ways… 
“By 11.30 the media interviews were finished and ‘normal’ work could resume, although that did involve a meeting with an opposition front-bench spokesperson in their offices, and a 'routine' meeting with the Energy Minister in the House of Commons.”
No reprieve
The complexity for CEOs multiplies when a company operates globally. Howard Kerr, CEO at standards and training provider BSI, says: “My wife will tell you it’s far too many hours, but I’m a CEO of an international business, so, just as I’m winding up in London the Americans or Brazilians are awake and wanting to speak to me… typically I can be making phone calls from seven in the morning until ten o’clock at night.”

Steve describes a typical day: "I had a conference call with my management team in Australia at 7.30am then I... had a conference call with my management team in Asia. And, because we’ve just made an acquisition in France, I had a call with the M&A team there, followed by one with my American team who I’m going out to meet tomorrow… I’m then heading to a consumer dinner to make a presentation and I should get home about midnight.”
The trick is to make the time to actually think about what's right for the future of the business. Lucy Dimes, UK CEO at telecoms concern Alcatel-Lucent, says: “There tends to be a lot of external activities… and when I’m in London it’s back-to-back meetings and travelling. My solace is my train journey in the morning when I can plan my day via my iPad.
“When I work from home, which I try and do every Friday, I still work very hard but because I haven’t got to be up at 5am for the commute, I can create the space to catch-up on emails and get my head straight… part of relaxing for me is having a Friday that enables me to go into the weekend without stress. I can’t relax on a Friday night if I haven’t had a productive day of catching up.”
It's about knowing how to deal with the pressure and endless priorities. Archie says: “In my experience it’s not a good idea to send emails last thing at night as they’re likely to be rather intemperate… Better to wait until morning when you’ll be much more diplomatic.”

As ever, it's the people around you who will be the ones who enable you to perform at your best. Howard says: “Building a successful business, with a team and a brand, is something I find personally very satisfying. What keeps me coming back day after day is the challenge of always staying ahead… proactively making things happen rather than feeling like you’re a victim of what’s happening in the outside world.”
Archie says: “Most chief executives have people report to them but that doesn’t mean they work as a team, and real teams at the top of companies where the CEO can actually confide and share the downsides as well as the upsides are few and far between. 
“When I was CEO at ASDA, I was very lucky in this regard because for a period of time I had a good sharing of responsibilities. If you can get your top few executives to work together it’s much more powerful than just going through one person.”

There is a view that in times gone by the CEO could do it all on his/her own. That's always been somewhat misguided as, although it may work for entrepreneurs up to a point, the most successful leaders realise that you need a collective effort to create a great business... and an understanding partner. 
I hope to see you soon.