Is email useful for people at the top?

This article in Fortune [via M3 Sweatt] tells how twelve “accomplished people” get through their days.

It’s amazing how difficult these people allow their lives to get. Only Bill Gross, Howard Schultz and Carlos Ghosn seem to exert any control over their environment and information flow that allows them a life outside work. The rest all seem to be suffering from varying degrees of workaholism. Although there’s no doubt that these people are successful, I think they could be even more successful and far more effective if they changed their style, and it would allow them to lead much more healthy and complete lives. This is turn would increase their potential even more…

Here’s a summary of the points that piqued my interest:

  • Marissa Mayer (VP, Search Products and User Experience, Google) receives 700 to 800 emails every day (her assistant handles many of these), takes 70 meetings a week, works on her email after 8pm and gets by on 4-6 hours of sleep. On weekends, she spends at least one 10 to 14 hour session on processing her accumulated email.
  • Bill Gross (Chief Investment Officer, Pimco) does not have a cellphone or BlackBerry, gets up at 4:30am, checks his stock tickers while making breakfast and is in his office by 6am. He uses the phone 3 or 4 times during the day, ignores much of his email, and considers his daily 90 minute workout session (8:30-10am) the most valuable time of the day for his work.
  • Vera Wang (CEO, Vera Wang Group) hates phones, does not go near email and is harrassed by a constant stream of employees who need her input. She does her best work in the sanctuary of her bedroom after work hours.
  • Howard Schultz (Chairman, Starbucks) gets up at 5am, reads three newspapers and retrieves his voicemail while drinking a cup of coffee (what else?). He talks to his European offices during the morning commute to work, and physically visits 25 Starbucks locations every week. He’s not a big emailer, and says email “is a crutch that hinders person-to-person communication.”
  • Carlos Ghosn (CEO of Renault (France) and Nissan (Japan)) spends the first week of every month in France, the third in Japan and also fits in a week in the US. He has three assistants who screen his email, passing to him only the items that they know are of great interest to him. He gets up by 6am and uses the time before his first meeting (8am) for thinking. He does not take his work home with him, allowing him to take a fresh look at things, from a different angle.
  • Amy W. Schulman (Partner, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary) wakes up between 5 and 6am, and is in her office by 8. When she’s not traveling (50% of the time) she gets home by 7:30pm, but only signs off email at midnight. She has two assistants who work in shifts: 7am to 4pm, and 4pm to midnight. She receives about 600 emails every day, and handles most of them immediately. She now has only one cellphone after canceling the additional one. She generally does not check email on her BlackBerry during dinner with the family, and tries not to look at it in movie theaters.
  • A.G. Lafley (Chairman, President, and CEO, Procter & Gamble) wakes up between 5 and 5:30am, works out and is at his desk by 7am. He leaves the office at 7pm, and carries on working at home after dinner. He used to spend Saturday and Sunday mornings at the office — now it’s only 90 minutes on each of those days. He uses his BlackBerry to send short single-paragraph notes and prefers conversations to email.
  • Jane Friedman (CEO, HarperCollins) describes herself as an email addict. She does 90 minutes of email at home in the mornings after skimming the newspapers. Although she usually has to go out for lunch, she’d rather have lunch at her desk while processing her emails. After leaving the office at 6pm, she typically attends 3 book parties, and checks email on her BlackBerry when she has a moment. After arriving home late at night, she spends another two hours on email while watching Law & Order re-runs.
  • Hank Paulson (Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs) has never used email, but is a “huge voicemail user,” receiving about 200 voicemail messages daily, which are not screened by his assistant. Although he has no time for small-talk, he returns every call right away. This past Christmas, he spent 10 days hiking in Chile, and appears in most of the family photographs with a satellite phone at his ear. He gets up at 5:30am and is in bed by 10pm.

One thing that is common to most of these successful people is that they are early risers and seem to be quite disciplined and/or organized. Another common thread is that human relationships are paramount. This, above all other factors, is probably the key to most of these people’s successes.

These people are very markedly divided in their attitudes towards email. It’s quite obvious that email (the way it is used today) is broken for most of the interviewees. Strangely, only a few of them have recognized this and have delegated their email tasks, while others soldier on, sacrificing a large part of their lives to it.


One response to “Is email useful for people at the top?

  1. Thanks for the pointer to the Fortune article and also the fine summary.

    Reading how people cope with email – or don’t – in the article makes me wonder who is actually driving the bus?

    Interesting stuff.



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