Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Your Business is No Excuse for Being an A**hole 21

To be honest, I thought it was a joke; irony, perhaps, or sarcasm. But no, to my surprise, I clicked on Love Your Business More Than Your Family, a column on entrepreneur.com, and he’s serious. Author George Cloutier says:

Your cell phone is for keeping in touch with clients and sales managers in the field, not for taking calls from your spouse throughout the day about what groceries to pick up on the way home. Cutting out early to take your kids to baseball practice three times a week, or picking up your Aunt Tilly or Uncle Ned from the airport, are unacceptable interruptions to success.

You can keep doing these things and waste dozens of hours each week. Or you can focus on the financial future of your business and work all day, every day. You are the only person responsible for fixing your business and making it better, and that isn’t going to happen while you take 14 personal phone calls a day and attend local Cub Scout meetings three-times a week.

That is extremely bad advice. I have absolutely nothing against George Cloutier. I’m even a fellow columnist on the same entrepreneur.com site, where I do a column on business planning. But sheesh, how can I read that, and not write about it? What would Bob Sutton (author of the book on business a**holes) say about this?

How wrong is George’s advice? Well, there’s no way to list all that’s wrong with it, but here at least is just a brief start on that list:

  1. It’s bad for your life. And business is to serve life, not life to serve business. Make no mistake about it; if you choose to “work all day, every day” do it purposely and knowingly, recognizing that you’re sacrificing your life for a business. Stay single and alone. Don’t ever have kids.
  2. It’s bad for your business too. You don’t manage a business, manage a team, make decisions, and get through the long hard days without balancing your life. People eventually blow up when they try.
  3. OK there are exceptions, but what if you aren’t one of them? What if you sacrifice everything and you don’t end up like Richard Branson,¬†water skiing in the Caribbean with a naked model? Some totally obsessed people end up wealthy and happy; but obsession doesn’t create the success, and most of them are just lonely and full of regrets.

Am I exaggerating here? I should add that I’m not just quoting him out of context. He means it. He starts with an obsolete tale of an obsolete business school professor from about 40 years ago telling married students to give up because they couldn’t be married and successful. Here’s what he says about that:

He told them that a family would get in the way of their success, so there wasn’t much point in them taking his course. In the end he let them stay, of course, but he wasn’t kidding. That was his way of making an important point: If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to love your business more than anything else–even your family.

And he finishes with this conclusion:

Often you will feel tremendous pressure to take time away from your business to devote to family matters. But in the end, the best thing you can do for them is to create the legacy of a business that is thriving and financially sound. When you’re retired, wealthy, and able to spend Valentine’s Day and other special occasions with your kids and grandkids at your winter home in Hilton Head, you’ll be glad you devoted so much of your time to your first love: your business.

Don’t believe him. I do hope that George is in Hilton Head with kids and grandkids. But if you or I follow his advice, we wouldn’t have anything at all to do on Valentine’s Day. Neither our kids nor our grandkids will be spending time with us. They’ll be with our ex-spouse and probably the step-parent who actually raised them. Skip the occasions, the practices, the parenting, and plan on being alone. And, unless you’re very unusual, regretting it. To paraphrase a line from Hello Dolly: “and on those cold winter nights, Horace, you can snuggle up to your cash register. It’s a little lumpy, but it rings.

Life is way too short to lose to business. Bring business and life together, mind your balance, and be successful at both. That’s what entrepreneurship is really for.

(Image credit: by Loren Javier via Flickr cc)

  • http://www.naturesgardencandles.com Deborah

    I own a small business, and I always say keep your priorities in this order: God, husband, children, business. A business should be something you run, not something that runs you.

  • http://ThreeDimensionalLeader.com Earl C. Wallac

    I agree with your work-life balance approach to running a buisness. I am the author of the Three-Dimensional Leader, and one of the mantra’s I mention in my book is “Family First and Business Too.” This means that you have to put your family first, as that is the reason for running your business, but there are times when your business appointments must be kept along with be mindful of what is going on within your family. When people vacation they tend to follow this principle, as they spend time with their family by scheduling time away from their business. Upon request, I will send you a copy of my book, which has been endorsed by Marshall Goldsmith, David Norton (Balanced Scorecard) and Arthur Carmazzi.

  • http://www.glamrockdesigns.com Griffin

    I read the article a few days ago and was pretty floored that he would advocate for that. Even if you took out the fact that we all love the people close to us (hard to do), the ROI of personal relationships is astounding. Attending dinner, going out to a function with our friends, playing video games on a Saturday night… how much time does that take?

    I know that sometimes we wind up in 100-hour workweeks, but you shouldn’t be in that situation constantly. If you’re ALWAYS working 100-hour weeks, you’re running your business inefficiently to say the least! Hire someone, delegate, or cut high-maintenance/low-return clients.

    The only thing that I agreed with was that you should have your cell phone off during meetings and when you absolutely can’t be disturbed for a few hours. Work-life boundaries are good.

  • http://area224.com Dave Van de Walle

    I’d rather die trying to have both personal and business success than follow this goober’s path to riches at the expense of my wife and three kids.

    Wish he wasn’t so blunt. There’s a balance, there’s fine-tuning. There are sacrifices along the way. But this George character just does not get it.

    Thanks for your perspective, Tim.

  • http://makeoutdoors.com Nic

    George is right. We sabotage ourselves by following rabbit trails and allowing interruptions. But he might be missing the networking opportunities at the ball field, the innovations found in child’s play, and the “safe” experimentation of relationship building found in home life. Such a close-minded approach to business fails to see omnipresent opportunity and wonders why the same old “work harder, not smarter” method is showing diminished returns.

  • http://www.brambleberry.com Anne-Marie

    Great blog and I totally agree with you viewpoint. I am self employed and I love my business and make sacrifices for it above and beyond what many people do for a normal job but never lose sight of the fact that family always comes first and that the things that really make life sweeter are always around people, not business goals.

  • http://www.freeagentacademy.com Kevin Miller

    Wow. Just…wow. I haven’t been privy to that perspective in a long time…and it’s astounding someone would have the audacity (and not better common sense) to post that, even if they really thought it in their hearts. Your commentary is…spot on, which I don’t say lightly. I was shown this article by one of my members…we train and inspire folks in self-employment, aka ‘free agency’. I’m sending this to everyone now. Thanks for being bold.

  • Anonymous

    I truly wish I would have learned this lesson a few months ago, before I lost a love. I regret how much time & energy I was spending at work, and how little I left of myself for my now x-girl-friend. Very wise advice! Don’t forget about what’s truly important to you.

  • http://www.ldabc.ca Thealzel Lee

    Excellent post! As a single parent, I “sacrificed” my career when my 3 young sons needed me to advocate for their special needs. Now that they are all attending university and/or in the work force, I feel that I have gained valuable experiences and life-lessons that I can use to benefit the entrepreneurs with whom I work/invested. Yes, it was an extremely tough and seemingly neverending journey but my (now) 3 young men like to hang out with their mum … Priceless!

  • Kate

    There are plenty of Entrepreneurs out there who have successful businesses and don’t sacrifice life for it. If your only goal is to make a lot of money then your priorities are completely off of the planet earth.

    People who sacrifice all for the all mighty dollar live in a small inward focused world and fail to connect with others in any meaningful way. Do I want to be a client/customer of a business owner who takes that approach? No! I want to know that they take the time to contribute to the well being of others including their own families.

  • http://womenable.com Julie Weeks

    How great it is to see this sort of dialogue between two male writers. Three cheers to Mr. Berry for sticking it to Mr. Cloutier!

  • Bill Davis

    Words to live by. Family absolutely has to be the top priority or you will lose them.

  • Doug

    I agree totally with Tim. Here’s a news flash for you, George: your family, and particularly your kids, would much rather enjoy your time now than your financial security later (and by the way, divorce is the quickest way out of financial security).

  • curt

    I’m glad I’m not that guys kid or spouse! The pic at the top is a dead ringer!
    I like your response.
    I may never be rich in money, but after almost losing a child to cancer, my family time is more important than a big bank account by far. To disagree with one of his points, my children are always happier with me taking them fishing, having a birthday party, helping with homework or other projects, than with a new ? that money buys.
    NEWS FLASH–Money does NOT equal Happiness

  • http://www.sbtv.com The Entrepreneur’s Wife

    I’m the wife of a chef/restaurant owner and mother to his 3 children and I also work for a small business website that offers resources for small business owners, http://www.sbtv.com. So as you can imagine, I thoroughly understand this issue from the inside out. Although antiquated and boorish, George has a point. The practical side of me understands that if my husband doesn’t take care of it, it won’t get done, eliminating all chances of success. On the other hand, will the money and success (if it ever happens) be worth it when we have nothing to talk about and the kids are grown? Remains to be seen. The moral, unfortunately, work life balance is as important to an entrepreneur as it is elusive. An enigma wrapped in a riddle.

  • http://www.MOSTraining.com Donna Gilliland

    Tim, thank you for writing this article. Your points are excellent.

    I own my business but my family is first. A business can’t hug you and it can’t talk to you nor advise you on matters of life and personal growth. Our family and friends contribute to our lives. If all is right there then our business success will follow.

    Thanks again Tim.

  • http://www.BikersGuidetoBusiness.Com BusinessBiker

    Outstanding advice! You’re never guaranteed tomorrow and always have to consider that one day your doctor may look you in the eye and drop the ‘C’ word on you. Don’t wait for cancer or some other compelling event to shift your priorities…do it now. I know.

  • bubba

    Rev. Billy Graham once said, “I’ve counselled with litterally hundreds of men on their death beds. I have never once heard anyone of them say, “”I wish I had spent more time with my business”".

  • http://www.idea15webdesign.com Heather

    Read his article the other day and had to check that the date wasn’t April 1st. His attitude of presumptuous entitlement to both wealth and the love of a family was galling. Like yourself, I had to marvel at his self-righteous assumption that the family will still be there with him 40 years from now in Hilton Head. Nope. They’ll have left him alone with his money long before that.

  • jp

    Way too short, indeed. I have 4 siblings and a mom to attest to that. — If they were still here.

  • http://teamlogan.com Jim Logan

    Great post and advice. I agree. Life without family isn’t life. Work hard, focus, but don’t sacrifice family — it matters most.