Forget rush-hour traffic, try air traffic control: How some CEOs cope with the cross-country commute.
Some CEOs spend their morning commute sitting in traffic. Ron Geraty sits on two American Airlines flights, one from Boston to Chicago, then another to Reno. That's the location of his medical device company, Alere Medical -- more than 2,200 miles from his home in Marblehead, Mass. Many CEOs endure periods of intensive travel, but Geraty has chosen it as a regular routine. As a turnaround specialist who buys troubled companies, he has commuted from Marblehead for 30 years, to firms in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and now Reno. "When I look for troubled companies, I focus on the company, not its location," he says. "It wasn't fair to move my family, so I keep moving me."
Geraty leaves every Monday morning at 6 and flies back early Friday morning. Despite three decades of flying to work, he has not gotten used to it. "Jet lag is a challenge," he says. "I spend the early part of each week shifting to West Coast time, and on the weekend I just about get back to East Coast time before it's time to leave and do it all again."
According to the Bureau of Transportation, about 33,000 Americans fly to work. Michael Coles is another one of them. Not long after he sold his Atlanta-based Great American Cookie Co. in 1998, Coles realized he was not ready to leave the food industry. So he acquired a majority stake in privately held Caribou Coffee, a smaller competitor to Starbucks, and stepped in as CEO. The only hitch is that Coles still lives in Atlanta, and Caribou is in Minneapolis. Coles flies back and forth every two weeks and plans to continue to do so for at least two more years. He's learning to make the most of his quiet time in the sky. "I catch up on all my reading," he says. "It's the only time there are no distractions."
Compared with these two, Mike Harris, a partner at Black Diamond Research, a securities analysis firm based in New York City, has it easy: He commutes from his home in Houston only one week a month. "I think it's a pretty good tradeoff for the convenience of living at home and not having to relocate my family," he says.
Harris, Coles, and Geraty have each amassed enough miles and stature to snag the cheapest fares and still upgrade to first class. All three of these CEOs have packing down to a science and never check bags. "It adds time at both ends, and every minute counts," says Geraty. Along with his laptop, Geraty's carryon luggage for flights to Reno often includes the fresh meat of 60 to 100 New England lobsters in an insulated bag. He likes to treat his employees to lobster salad on Mondays. "In Reno, it is very rare to find lobster you know was caught the day before," he explains. "I try to make the fruits of my travel enjoyable to my staff."
Cross-country commuting can be hard on the system, but it can also be hard on the spouse and children. "Don't do it if your family doesn't support it," says Alere Medical's Ron Geraty, who has been known to fly home in the middle of the week for a Little League game. Chris McGinnis, CNN travel adviser and author of 202 Tips Even the Best Business Travelers May Not Know, suggests that travelers with youngsters keep an online journal or use a camera phone to send photos. "Instead of the kids thinking you disappear when you go to the airport, they get to share in the experience," he says. He also advises taking a family member along for the ride every now and again. It's comforting for them to spend time with you and see what you do when you're away. For your own sanity, McGinnis recommends long-term housing like a rental condo instead of a hotel. "A true home away from home is easier on your psyche, and it's often cheaper," he says.