Ron Fior, CFO of Callidus Software, recently visited family in Canada over a long weekend. But while he may have been in Canada physically, mentally he was still in his California office. "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 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%) say 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 one quarter say 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 completely unplugging 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-device maker iCAD. More often, she says, her vacations are interrupted, "usually by something like fund-raising or another kind of transaction" that was impossible to predict when she booked a trip 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," he says. "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 in to 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 (usually) not calling him. 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.
For those who can't get completely away, there is still a bright side. Says Deptula-Hicks: "If you do have to work, it's certainly more palatable to do it sitting on the beach with a margarita in hand." And, no doubt, a cell phone in the other.