When you're a CEO, your life is an open book. Just ask Michael Elfenbein, whose workers are counting the days until he gets engaged.
Know what your employees talk about behind your back? Michael Elfenbein does. Or at least he knows what his employees discuss. "They want to know when I'm going to propose to my girlfriend," he says. Elfenbein, whose Parsippany, N.J., staffing company, Ivory Systems (#215), is seven years old, isn't surprised that his life and habits have become a source of conjecture for everyone from the chief financial officer to the receptionist. "At a small company everybody becomes more family than colleagues," he says. (A CEO's life can even affect employee morale: Veteran Inc 500 CEO Eric Kriss tells the story of an employee who started the rumor that Kriss's company was in trouble just because the CEO hadn't bought a new car in a while.) In Elfenbein's case, the 34-year-old CEO avers elusively that he'll "probably pop the question at some point." His employees, less elusively, were happy to predict for us how.
Rochelle Olin, staffing analyst, age 25
Tenure at company: Three years
How Mike will propose: "I think he has the aptitude to be romantic. Maybe he'll take her out to dinner with a band -- he'll want to make it special for her. He might even come to us when he's planning it."
When he'll do it: "I think he'll ask her by next year, definitely."
Further comment: "I think the ring will probably be one to two carats. She's the huge-engagement-ring type. She's a really nice girl."
Gigi Gervits, staffing analyst, age 31
Tenure: Four years
How Mike will propose: "I don't think he'll go down on one knee. I think it'll be on vacation, because he loves to travel: Europe, Asia, all over. It will be a one-on-one type thing, not at a restaurant. It'll be somewhere far off, quiet, and romantic. And he'll make a joke out of it, because he's a jokester -- or thinks he is, anyway."
When he'll do it: "I don't even know if it will ever happen, but I guess I would say next year at the earliest. He's afraid of commitment. He's definitely in love with her -- that's not the issue -- but I think he's happy with the status quo."
Further comment: "We talk about it all the time. We're always talking about each other's love lives."
Fred Scholl, director of client solutions, age 42
Tenure: Three years
How Mike will propose: "He would surprise her, probably on some romantic getaway. Would I advise him to get down on one knee? Sure."
When he'll do it: "If I had to guess, it's probably up-and-coming -- probably by the end of the year. Is this an official pool now? What do I get if I win?" [Editor's note: We offered a free issue of Inc.]
Further comment: "We're not a large office, so we know each other's business more than maybe is necessary or appropriate. Both personal and businesswise, we're on top of each other. But as close as we are in the office, I don't think he'd do it here."
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman