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ORANGE COUNTY STYLE : THE NEW BOSSES : Low-key executives keep morale and profits high by balancing work and leisure

October 04, 1987|CARLA LAZZARESCHI | Lazzareschi is a Times staff writer specializing in business.

Executive work style in Orange County: Fast, flexible and entrepreneurial. Without a lot of time-honored tradition to slow the pace. A personal stamp is welcome, risk-taking accepted, diversity valued. And there's room at the top for more than Type-A bosses. Successful CEOs in the county are proving what management psychologists have been theorizing for years: The road to long-term profit is not necessarily paved with open-ended stress. Here, men and women who have earned national and international recognition for their on-the-job achievements find time to strike a wholesome balance.

For many executives--such as Tom Lingo, who, with wife Pat, runs a multimillion-dollar swimwear house--good management doesn't mean merely comparing this year's balance sheet with last year's. It means keeping enthusiasm--and thus production and profits--high. "We work hard so we can play hard," Lingo explains.

Balance takes another form for executives such as banker-philanthropist Tim Strader. He hires the right people, then spends his time looking at the big picture.

"Work is a way to enjoy life, not a way of life," says Augie Nieto, an under-30 entrepreneur turned millionaire.

Like Nieto, other members of the new breed of Orange County executive toil intensively, yet agree that knowing when to stop is as critical as knowing when to plunge in. Though they don't try to pass off work as all fun and games, they focus on its rewards, rather than its sacrifices.

Some businesses use help-wanted ads when they have jobs to fill. Others retain employment agencies. But Tom and Pat Lingo, the owners of Raisins, call on their friends, or friends of friends, whenever their San Juan Capistrano women's swimwear company has an opening.

And since it's friends who are on the payroll, the Lingos say, they like to treat their 37 employees like family.

For example, every winter the couple takes the entire Raisins staff to Park City, Utah, for a week of skiing. Later in the year, they sponsor Raisins' annual day-long bike ride from San Juan Capistrano to Oceanside and top off the festivities with a banquet.

Executives of the firm, several of whom have been the Lingos' confidants for more than a decade, frequently vacation with their bosses on the Lingo yacht, anchored at La Paz, Baja California. They are also treated to a weeklong stay at the prestigious Cooper Clinic in Dallas for fitness and stress evaluations.

The Lingos rely on their younger women employees, whom they consider "profile Raisins' customers," to help them make design selections for their annual collections. "This is valuable to us and valuable to their self-esteem," says Pat Lingo, 40, Raisins' president and chief designer. "Essentially we have very low turnover on the workforce.

"At Raisins we're surrounded by friends. Socially, we don't do anything outside our family or the company. In fact, we're not well known outside the company."

No matter, the Raisins label is .

Raisins' pastel colors and uninhibited graphics spell beach in any language and are copied the world over. In the 14 years since Pat Lingo started sewing bikinis from used Hawaiian shirts in her Laguna Beach apartment, the company has mushroomed into a $10-million-a-year business, with a women's swimwear and sportswear line aimed exclusively at the boutique market.

To maintain its image as an innovator and to avoid being controlled by department stores, Raisins has turned down requests from giant retailers to carry its line, selling instead to about 1,600 U.S. speciality shops.

Although the firm makes its home amid the sun, surf and sand of Orange County, the Lingos say they treat the beachwear business as serious work.

"Outsiders have an image that Orange County people don't work--that they just lie around on the beach. It couldn't be further from the truth," Pat Lingo says. "And you can imagine what they think when we say we're an Orange County swimsuit firm."

To stay on top in the "fun-fun-fun" beachwear business, the Lingos routinely work 60 hours a week. In May and June, when they're putting the finishing touches on the following summer's line, the couple put in 12-hour days, seven days a week.

Still, the Lingos, who have live-in help with household chores and child care, say they are not workaholics.

"We work hard so we can play hard," says Tom Lingo, 44, who sold a chain of six Orange County real estate offices to join Raisins in 1982. "We're outdoors people."

Playtime consists of sports and recreation-oriented vacations with their children, Meagan, 9, and Matt, 7--on the yacht, in Utah or camping in the mountains. Vacations are so important to the family that last year the couple transferred the children from a private school to take advantage of the three-week vacations every nine weeks at the local public school, which is on a year-round schedule.

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