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Gimme a Break!

As the former CEO and then chairman of the board of French-owned Euro RSCG Becker, I spent a lot of time in Paris. With my laptop and PowerPoint presentations in tow, I was whisked off from 350 Hudson Street to Kennedy Airport onto Air France (a Euro RSCG client) and off to Paris with my Sonata capsules in my shirt pocket.

The driver, in his smart black suit, was always there at de Gaulle to meet me and off we drove to Cedex (Havas’s parent company headquarters) outside of Paris. Once there, we joined the team in the conference room; set up our quarterly presentation equipment, had a great croissant and coffee and made our two-hour recap of the quarter past and our outlook for the next one. Meetings continued through the day with the CFO, CEO, and agency heads, followed by dinner and our overnight stay at an awful Holiday Inn in Cedex. Next day, the driver appeared for a 6 a.m. pick up for de Gaulle and the flight back to Kennedy (thank goodness for Sonata). My view of Paris over those many years was seen through the backseat window of the limo when I peeked up from my computer or BlackBerry to check out the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. 

Recently my wife Mechele and I took our eldest grandchild, Rebecca, to Paris for her 13th birthday. Rebecca is a bright and beautiful fashion maven; so Paris—but of course—was her choice. Mechele was thrilled as well, being a Francophile; but I was not. I was hoping for Tuscany or the Algarve; but Rebecca was calling the shots on this one. Paris again—ugh! My passport has more “France” stamps in it than others by far.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be. On this trip with my wife and granddaughter, I finally saw Paris. No laptop in my pack, no business to conduct, only unscheduled fun and the joy of seeing Paris through Rebecca’s eyes. Savoring the masterpieces in the Musée D’Orsay, climbing the Arc de Triomphe, shopping in Bon Marché, dining at the Café Marley in the Louvre and Le Bon Accueil. Wow!

Flying back, I thought about this special vacation and what I missed out on these many years. Like so many of my colleagues with the responsibility of running a company every day and always thinking about maintaining that competitive edge, helping the people, what to acquire, customer issues, forecast bumps and the like… how does one ever go on a stress-free holiday? Like so many senior executives I know, I acted the part of the carefree vacationer but always managed to sneak away and make that mobile phone call or get on the computer at the pool. Could I have become a better golfer without my cell phone on?  Maybe, only maybe. A more tuned-in traveler, a more attentive listener?  For sure.

What I’ve learned in my later years is leaders must make time for “brain rest.” Perspective and the need for it comes to one only when the venue is changed dramatically from the “work worry” place to an ambience of fun, great surroundings, and enough time to throw off the office tension and concern. “Perspective” is a term that rarely surfaces in leadership articles. We spend our time analyzing “People” and “Passion” much more than that other “P” word. But, much to my amusement, a great (no phones or computer) vacation provides opportunities to gain valuable insights about family, friends, the political scene, and the future that one is often too busy to contemplate in the everyday work/worry place.

Advice: chill out, plan at least two vacations a year, if you can for at least two weeks each and leave the computer and mobile phone home. If they need you; they’ll find you.