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Juggling Act

Letting Down Their Corporate Shields

Lifestyles: A number of men are letting personal issues affect their career decisions.

August 12, 1996|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Christopher Sinclair stunned the beverage industry last month when he resigned as head of PepsiCo's $11-billion worldwide beverage operations and as a member of the company's board of directors.

Perhaps just as stunning was his stated reason for quitting: to spend more time with his young family. In a memo, the highly regarded Pepsi veteran, just 45, told employees that the intensity of the job and the constant travel had taken too much of a toll.

There was a time in corporate America, not many years ago, when such a comment from a fast-rising male executive would have been almost unthinkable. But men--at least on a small scale--are starting to publicly acknowledge some of the same problems in balancing job and family that have long bedeviled working women.

Hollywood has even tackled the subject with a summer comedy from Columbia Pictures. In "Multiplicity," Michael Keaton has himself cloned in an effort to be a good father, husband and worker.

"We baby boomers who are aging . . . have had the accelerator to the floor for the last 15 years and are now saying: 'Wait a minute. What have I done?' " said Rich Hagberg, a management consultant in San Francisco. "There's a lot more discussion about work-life balance now than I ever heard before."

Perot Systems Corp., an information technology and consulting firm in Dallas, recently hired an expert on corporate change. His bio is replete with references to his three young children and his efforts to accommodate competing roles. Because he spends most of his time on the road, he bases himself at his New Hampshire home. He often takes his children along--one at a time--on business trips, even letting them sit in on meetings. He says they have been known to ask stimulating questions.

That's an extreme case, of course. Most male executives would still be loath to let down the shield they don when they enter the corporate arena. As a breed, management experts say, CEOs tend to be one-dimensional, focusing on work to the detriment of family.

"It's still much more acceptable for women to make a lifestyle choice," said Jeff Christian, an executive search consultant in Cleveland. "For the man, it's still considered a lack of strength or masculinity. To admit that you've retreated, that you're AWOL from the corporate battles, that is a form of cowardice."

However, he noted that more people are doing just that as guilt over shirking family duties outweighs ambition. A common refrain in interviews, he said, is, "I'll do whatever it takes on weekdays, but on weekends I want to spend time with my family."

This development pleases women, who have often felt alone in their struggle to find a place for both family and career.

"I think it's terrific that it has become comfortable and politically correct for men to use" family as a reason for career choices, said Marcia Brumit Kropf, vice president of research and advisory services at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that encourages businesses to create opportunities for women. "It wouldn't have been 10 or 15 years ago."

Hagberg seconded that opinion. He singled out Harold Geneen, the hard-nosed head of ITT Corp. in the 1960s and '70s, as one boss who wouldn't have taken kindly to a male manager's abandoning ship because of family concerns.

"If you told him you wanted a better work-life balance, he'd eat your lunch," Hagberg said.

Granted, just as "resigning to pursue other interests" masked a variety of personality and culture clashes in 1980s corporate America, "family" could become a socially acceptable excuse for getting out of an untenable situation. But Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, with Emory University's Center for Leadership and Career Studies (also known as the CEO College), said male executives are starting to talk much more openly about family and the frustration of having so little private time.

"It seems to be very much a generational thing," he said. "Rising baby boomers . . . don't seem to mind looking soft."

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