STRATEGY

Domestic Policy

James Lloyd, CEO of Versatile Systems, has spent years trying to balance the needs of his company with those of his family. His continued struggle demonstrates that how you run your company is intimately related to how you run your life.
Advertisement

One man's attempt to deal with the trickiest management issue of all: finding enough time for both his company and his family

James Lloyd is not what you'd expect. At 34, he is boyishly handsome, with an unruly cowlick; a broad, lopsided grin; and the kind of attitude that comes as no surprise from someone who drives a black Trans Am with a license plate that reads "FREAKIN." The Trans Am is the latest evidence of a lifelong car obsession, and Lloyd loves to drive it fast, careering along the winding, narrow road that takes him home past vast expanses of farmland in the valley below and a dazzling view of Washington's Cascade Mountains in the distance. For all the world, he looks and acts like a typical thirtysomething CEO -- arrogant, self-confident, and charged up by the constant adrenaline rush of running a fast-growing company. To be sure, he is that.

But Lloyd is also the father of seven (yes, seven) children, aged one to 12 years, and when he returns home, he tries his best to let his role as CEO of Versatile Systems Inc., an Inc. 500 company, fade like the Cascades in the early-morning Seattle fog. At home he is simply Dad. It's a vanishing act that Lloyd has been perfecting for years, but he doesn't pretend to have it down to a science. He will tell you that he has, many times, been "a real jerk," and his wife, Tami, will wholeheartedly agree. Like so many CEOs, he once allowed his company to consume him so thoroughly that his marriage and family life were threatened to the point of imminent destruction. Things at his company weren't so great, either.

And so Lloyd has spent seven long years -- years that most young CEOs would have toughed out in modest bachelor digs eating ramen noodles -- trying desperately to balance the demands of growing a company with raising a family. Now he seems to have reached a comfortable equilibrium. He works four days a week, takes family vacations, drives his kids to school in the morning, and is home at night in time to have dinner with them. How he does that is not so much a lesson in balance as it is a journey filled with self-discovery and compromise. He has come to understand, finally, that how you run your company is intimately related to how you run your life -- and that it is virtually impossible to change one without changing the other.

Lloyd started his company in 1991, while he was still working as a software programmer for Millstone Coffee Inc., a Seattle-based gourmet-coffee roaster and distributor that was bought by Procter & Gamble in 1995. He had dropped out of a local community college after just one quarter, but in a series of relatively low-level jobs at GTE, Eastman Kodak, and Omnitronics he found that he had a knack for computer programming. At Millstone he wrote software applications for the handheld computers that field salespeople use for invoicing and inventory tracking -- a system that struck him as the wave of the future.

Longing to be in business for himself "so I could be somebody," he jumped at the opportunity when Francis McHugh, a sales representative for Telxon Corp., the manufacturer of the handheld-computer hardware, asked him if he'd like to do some similar programming work for another customer. "I did it for $5,000 as a consultant," recalls Lloyd. Keeping his full-time job at Millstone, Lloyd began to develop more and more outside customers and eventually borrowed money from McHugh so that he could buy the hardware himself, program it, and then sell it as a value-added reseller.

By that time, in early 1992, Lloyd was just 26 but had already been married for five years and was the father of three children. Tami, an impeccably groomed woman who craves order and structure in her life, was expecting their fourth child when, as she recalls, "things got ugly." For the first time in their marriage, the Lloyds had achieved modest financial security -- but not without a paying a hefty price: Lloyd was working a full-time job and running a sole proprietorship on the side, and he rarely spent time with his growing family. "He'd come home, but there was nobody home," says Tami. "When he walked through the door, the kids and I would see this frazzled man. It was like I was a single mom, and I didn't want that life."

Lloyd's work habits also provoked an eerie sense of déjà vu. His father, a scientist and workaholic who was plagued by bipolar disorder and drug addiction, had been institutionalized since the time Lloyd was five years old and committed suicide in 1987. "I saw the patterns," says Tami, "and I was worried for him. There had to be some rules."

So she did what countless other spouses of entrepreneurs have done: she laid down the law. Lloyd had to be home by 6 every evening; he could work when the children went to bed but only until 1 a.m.; he couldn't get up before 5; and on Saturdays he was permitted to work only until noon. Exceptions would be made in extreme emergencies, which, as it turned out, seemed to occur constantly. In the start-up phase, even the most mundane tasks can provoke a sense of urgency in new CEOs, and Lloyd fell into a classic trap: everything became an emergency. "Everything but us," laments Tami. And so the two played roles straight from central casting -- the bad-boy entrepreneur determined to stretch the rules as far as possible and the nagging spouse who must constantly rein him in. "I couldn't let her control me," recalls Lloyd.

Last updated: Nov 1, 1999

DONNA FENN | Inc.com Contributing Editor

Donna Fenn is the author of Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: