BUSINESS PLANS

Black-Belt Boss

Here's a look at a day in the life of one of the most physically and psychically prepared CEOs around.
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A day in the life of the most physically and psychically prepared chief executive we know

About 10 years ago Moses Joseph's karate teacher told him, "It's time to break a baseball bat with your shin. I know you can do it -- you have the shin and the strength and the will." Joseph bought the first two properties, but as for the third, he wasn't sure. "All you have to do," the teacher went on, "is think it in your mind, execute it in your mind. If you can't convince your inner self, your outer self will break its leg and be seriously injured." Joseph fretted: "When I picture my shin versus your bat, it's my shin that snaps." He paced for a few minutes, enjoying both legs while he could. Then he turned and kicked. The Louisville Slugger shattered in two.

* * *

4:15 a.m. No wimpy snooze button for him. Moses Joseph leaps out of bed at the alarm's first ring, rising to meet the business day at an hour when some CEOs leap into bed. "If I dawdle, I'm lost," he explains. "I want to feel like I'm on top of the day, rather than have the day control me. I mount a mental attack on time from the first minute on." Joseph's wife, Cathy, a confirmed sleeper, affectionately brands him "an aggressive nut." His business competitors hold much the same opinion.

* * *

4:20 a.m. For breakfast Joseph chews an apple. He dons a loose uniform called a gi in Japanese. Around his waist the Clark Kent-ish, five-foot-nine 37-year-old wears the black belt he's earned in kyuku shinkai karate, the most brutal of modern martial arts. Joseph tells no one with whom he does business that he's ranked among the world's best karate fighters. But he may be too cautious: a Japanese businessman on whom he paid a sales call at Mitsubishi Electric recognized him as having been a final four contestant in a ferocious fight-to-the-end championship in Tokyo. He gave Joseph a million-dollar contract on the spot.

* * *

4:22 a.m. Joseph assumes the lotus position and meditates on the wall-to-wall carpet in the family room of his new $700,000 home, which recruiters used last fall to help lure him from a vice-president-of-marketing post in sunny Silicon Valley to a chief executive officer's position in frigid Minneapolis. Abrupt climate changes are nothing new to him, however. His father traveled the globe on missions for the United Nations and, says Joseph, who by the luck of the draw was born in Japan but ethnically is Indian, "it's easier for me to name the countries I haven't been to." For 10 minutes he remains unmoving, meditating so hard that sweat drips down his face. When you meditate, "you become intensely in tune with the aspect of things. I'll make good decisions," he predicts, "because I'm tuned to everything that's going on."

While the body always recharges in sleep, the mind seldom does, notes Joseph, who has lowered his pulse rate to 47 beats per minute. In layperson's terms, meditation's disciplined serenity gives the mind a chance to grab some z's and regain the upper hand over the body. It works, judging from Joseph's six-month revivification of sluggish B-Tree, in Minnetonka, Minn., a developer and marketer of devices that test and verify the functions of such can't-afford-to-fail particulars as heart pacemakers and jetliner controls.

* * *

4:32 a.m. Shhhhk! Shhhhk! The cotton garment comes to life, crackling like indoor lightning as Joseph performs traditional karate katas, gestures as graceful as a ballet dancer's but choreographed to destroy things -- clay bricks, wooden slabs, human bones. And they do: once Joseph was set upon in Manhattan by a trio of youths who demanded his change. No way, he advised them in so many words. One member of the gang swung a club at his head. "I practice a knockdown style of karate in which we try to break people's thighs and legs with kicks," Joseph explained to the city's finest about the havoc that followed. "I was fighting for my life in a strange place, so I aimed low kicks at their knees, full force."

How to waste three guys in two New York seconds was not exactly what Joseph's father had had in mind as a course of study for his offspring. The intelligentsia, his father had believed, do better playing tennis. His 15-year-old son saw karate as more globally useful, however, and skipped school to fit in lessons on his own. The first that the elder Joseph knew about that turn of events was when Moses' karate class staged a demonstration and his father was invited to the show. He was there, with a neurosurgeon friend, when Moses' turn came to break a block of ice with his forehead. The youth jumped up, came down hard on the 100-pound cube, bounced ineffectively off it, and saw stars. Back home, Moses expected his father to sympathize. Instead, the neurosurgeon friend drew a picture of the skull. "The brain floats in the cranial sack," the doctor explained, showing him. "When you hit the front of your head hard, your brain bounces. If this happens too many times, you become punch-drunk. Son, your dad intends that you stay sound enough to earn a Ph.D." Twenty-two years later, Moses Joseph boasts both advanced degrees and a forehead like a steel-belted radial.

The karate he practices in his middle age is a wellspring of coolness and rationality. "Even when someone hits me as hard as he can, there's no violence, no pain. Your mind transcends them. It's a test of will. You don't let it bother you. Because of karate, everything I do in business and in my outside life can be gentle. I get more out of people by being gentle than by being aggressive. But I'm not meek," he adds. "There's a difference."

Now Joseph's eyes focus on an imaginary point, such as an imaginary jaw. "Every punch goes to the same spot, every kick strikes that apex," he explains. "My mind is focused, my body is focused, my breathing is focused. It's a unification of mind, body, and spirit. That's the spiritual side of karate." But for all the symmetry of spirit, it's really a replica of the physical fight -- keep throwing or get pounded -- that Joseph carries into the business day. If you keep throwing, your opponent is always on the defensive and can't attack back. "I make the connection between conquering an adversary and conquering a business all the time," he admits. "It's not what you've done but what you do next that keeps your competitor at bay ."

* * *

5:15 a.m. In summer the sun is up (in winter it's still down, and the temperature's below zero to boot) as Joseph fires up the Lexus and heads to the Flagship Athletic Club, 15 minutes away. The club is already bustling with gray-templed executives reading the Wall Street Journal as they trot in place. Joseph sets his treadmill for an eight-minute mile and joins the rat race, a dozen machines wide. His legs are primed to pump for seven getting-nowhere miles, but if his zeal flags, he seeks inspiration from the person jogging next to him. That that person is the fifth jogger next to him since he began doesn't spoil the illusion. "If I give up, I feel defeated," he says. While his companions listen to stereo headsets, Joseph tunes to the "hypnotic rhythm" of his own breathing. In through the nose, out from the mouth, nose, mouth, nose, mouth -- a mystic's Top 40. "Breathing is a life force that unifies mind and body. The fitter you are, the easier breathing is, the less your body gets in the way, the more powerful your mind becomes.

"I have an Eastern sense of values," Joseph says. "The Japanese have influenced me tremendously. The side of Japan I've seen that most Americans haven't seen -- that most Japanese haven't seen -- is hard-core samurai, what the Japanese culture really was, the martial part. Ever since I started, I was taught, 'Never show hurt, never give up, never show fatigue; the mind will lift the body.' " Karate is efficient -- there's no extraneous movement, no extra energy. "The Japanese reduce everything to its basic form and make it simple and powerful," he observes, "and then repeat it over and over again. They do it in martial arts, and they do it in manufacturing."

* * *

7:15 a.m. Back in the locker room Joseph changes into tennis whites. Today he'll be an hour later to the office than usual to fit in a biweekly tennis lesson. Until recently, Joseph's last experience with the pastime was at 16, when he was beaten by "a pudgy overweight marshmallow far less fit than I." And not by a slashing, smashing assault that, in young Moses' opinion, was the way all challenges should be answered, but by lifting dinky lobs high over the net. The tennis pro's unsuspected task is not to refine Joseph's game but to hone his patience. The lesson comes hard. "In tennis, you're supposed to stop and say, 'Nice shot.' No way!" Joseph protests. "That's like stopping to say, 'Nice punch' in karate."

* *

9 a.m. After a breakfast (lunch?) of cereal and milk, the CEO, at last in an executive suit, arrives at work. He catches up with the news (via an on-line gopher) and reviews the day's calendar. A meeting with employees regarding stock options (everyone gets them) has been postponed: some venture capitalists want him for most of the day.

* * *

Noon For an hour twice a week, when the hands of the clock go straight up, the hands of Joseph go straight down, forming the base of yoga poses calculated to exercise a different set of muscles but the same set of mind as karate. He misses his yoga session today. "If I stray from my regimen, I lose an edge," he says. "I don't have as clear a mental map of my priorities, and I find myself waiting for the day to end so I can regroup that evening." Just before his 10 p.m. bedtime, he'll pencil tomorrow's challenges into a journal the size of War and Peace.

* * *

4:15 p.m. Off comes the jacket, down goes the necktie, and Joseph's karate-scarred elbow bends with the best of them. Once a week he picks up the tab for a B-Tree bull session at a local pub. Two-thirds of the employees show up. It doesn't rattle Joseph that as high-tech CEOs go, at 37 he's ancient. His employees barely average 30. They talk not business but fast cars, a sign that the gathering's collective mind is relaxed, the way Joseph wants it.

Joseph keeps all company circumstances, no matter how adverse, in open books and accessible through open doors. "If I want them to respond to me just like that" -- karate snap! -- "I have to share all the news, the bad as well as good." He intends to forge a business organization that will have the instincts of a karate champion, with each component reacting instinctively, swiftly, autonomously, accurately, and dependably to whatever exigency might arise. "A company anticipates pain as does a human," Joseph says. "It's threatened by outside forces. But a company that understands its markets, that's gutsy and solid, that has come together such that everyone cares about and believes in one another, that communicates well -- and believes in the CEO -- it's hard to make that company feel pain."

* * *

6 p.m. The Lexus glides back into the driveway, delivering Joseph to two inviolate hours at the hearth. "Family first, that's my priority," Joseph affirms. "Most people do the opposite. They get straight in their business, then scramble in their personal life. But you can't be effective at work unless your personal life is in order." Not everything on the calendar got accomplished, but the unflappable CEO has more important things to do. "The day I became a father I lost the passion to fight every day. Today when I finish work I want to go home and play with the kids." A typically serene suburban scene -- except for one detail. He's teaching karate to his 5-year-old daughter, and lately she's gotten this notion of whupping him. According to the doctrine, if she thinks she can, she will.

Last updated: Sep 1, 1996




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