Pat Gelsinger is widely known as the CEO of VMware, the $US6-billion-in-revenues star child of EMC’s “federation” of subsidiaries.
But long before he came to EMC and then to VMware, he was a rising star at Intel, with Andy Grove as his mentor.
He came to media attention in those Intel days for preaching to other techies about the importance of work-life balance.
Literally preaching. He’s a dedicated Christian that goes to church every Sunday and sometimes gives sermons, particularly at one of the many churches he supports through charity. (And there are many of those in the Bay Area, the rest of North America, and Africa).
But he’s also a workaholic and a geek himself.
So, years ago when his family was young, he engineered a system for balancing life and wrote about it in abook called “The Juggling Act: Bringing Balance to Your Faith, Family, and Work,” first published in 2003.
His four kids are grown now, ranging in age from 24 to 31. Two are married and he has two grandchildren. His wife, Linda, splits her time 50/50 between the Gelsingers’ two homes — one in Oregon where two of their kids, her parents, and one grandchild lives, and one in the Bay Area, where the other kids and grandchild lives. (VMware is based in Palo Alto.)
When she’s gone, he goes all workaholic with long days, dinner meetings, and work until bed. When she’s in town, he leaves work at 6 p.m.
“Even though I wrote the book earlier in my career, it’s alive and well now, even though the form has changed,” he says.
And he also prioritises his family in other ways. VMware’s huge customer conference, VMworld, is opening in San Francisco on Monday. But two weeks ago, he turned off his cell phone and took his son salmon fishing.
“Despite the chaos of VMworld preparation, I was totally incommunicado, as there’s no cell phone connection on the mouth of the Columbia River while we’re salmon fishing,” he laughs.
Workaholism in the Valley ‘spins out of control’
We asked Gelsinger to weigh on the controversy stirred up by a recent expose on Amazon, exposing the company as a “bruising” place to work. Since then, execs at other companies have said what the whole tech industry already knows: Amazon isn’t alone. All tech companies seem to worship workaholism.
If a tech company “doesn’t take explicit steps to allow employees to prioritise family and balance” an employee’s work life can easily “spin out of control,” he says.
“The Valley is feeding on that,” he adds.
In the parts of the tech world where crazy work schedules are the norm, like at startups, it’s even easier for CEOs and managers to turn a blind eye.
“Every startup, they want to be a unicorn, the next billion-dollar valuation, and every employee wants to be part of that unicorn experience,” he told us.
“If you would go to a startup company and ask them, are you trying to abuse your employees? They would never say yes to that. But it’s this absolute coherence of objectives. The employee wants to be successful and the company wants to be successful and they just drive each other into this frenzy of work and schedules.”
But it’s not 100% the company’s fault either.
Balancing life is “a shared responsibility of the individual and the company,” Gelsinger believes.
“We’re hiring Type-As, some of the best and brightest people on the planet and they’re passionate about their projects and their technology. How much do they want to be successful? Very much so. So their inclinations match with companies’ inclinations to deliver more breakthroughs, which means work more, work harder, deliver faster, deliver sooner. To me it’s the nature of who is in the Bay Area,” he told us.
The way out is for both sides to to be systematic.
Employees deliberately need to weave in daily family time, like breakfast with the kids or driving them to school. They also need to pace themselves.
“You’re working like crazy on a project, the project is done, make sure you don’t immediately jump into a new project,” he says.
Companies not only need to respect an employee’s golden hours of family time, but need to make their work environments more family friendly, too.
“At VMware, we have all sorts of events where we pull families in. We have a date night happening on campus, a movie night. Our Halloween party is legendary, where families and kids come. We make it very convenient for spouses and kids to feel comfortable to come on campus for dinners and things like that at night,” he says.
The upshot: achieving balance is also work. “People have to be very self disciplined,” he says.