How CEOs Manage Time: an ambitious HBR study


Harvard Business Review, and more specifically Michael Porter, recently completed an ambitious study of time management by top CEOs.  Their executive assistants were taught to rigorously record how they spent their time in 15-minute increments for 3 full months.  What he learned was eye-opening, and in Porter style, instructive and packed with ideas.

The article, worth reading, is full and involves a commitment of time.  I’ve summarized the key results and unabashedly use many quotes that support their conclusions.

The key takeaways were that:

  1. The Job is All Consuming
  2. They Work Face to Face
  3. They are Agenda Driven
  4. They Rely Heavily on their Direct Reports
  5. They Manage Using Broad Integrating Mechanisms
  6. They are Always in Meetings
  7. They Juggle Many External Constituencies


The Job is All Consuming

These top CEOs worked on average 9.7 hours per weekday and an additional 8 hours through the weekend.  But they also are good at setting limits and boundaries in their lives to make room for their personal well-being.  Half of the roughly 6 hours a day when they were awake and not working were spent with families.

They Work Face to Face

61% of their time was spent working with people in face-to-face communications.  What that meant was flexible and “some CEOs in [the] study have begun to use video conferencing as an alternative to face-to-face meetings, especially to cut down on travel for themselves and for team members who might otherwise have to come to see them.”

Nearly all the CEOs complained about siren call of electronic communications and spoke about the need for real discipline in resisting their call.

They Are Agenda Driven

In the study, each CEO was asked to describe the agenda he or she was pursuing during the three months being tracked.  Each CEO had no trouble providing their particular agenda.  These top CEOs were spending on average 43% of their time furthering those agendas.

“Keeping time allocation aligned with CEOs’ top priorities is so crucial that we suggest that every quarter CEOs make a point of looking back at whether their schedule for the previous period adequately matched up with their personal agenda. They should also update the agenda to reflect current circumstances.”

Those CEOs that were most effective were those who were ensuring that their personal agendas were explicit to others.

Porter warns and suggests that “CEOs need to take a hard look at every activity that falls into the routine and have-to-do categories. They must ask whether it serves an important purpose or is simply a company habit, something instituted by the predecessor, or a carryover from the CEO’s previous role”…and most importantly, does it fit into their agenda.

They Rely Heavily on their Direct Reports

“We found that it’s critical for each member of the leadership team to have the capabilities to excel and earn the CEO’s full trust and support. Any weaknesses in this group significantly reduce the CEO’s effectiveness, because dealing with work that reports should have handled, and cleaning up after them, eats up valuable time.”

While reliance on their direct reports is a crucial part of their ability to be successful, they cannot abandon those outside the executive circle.  “Not surprisingly, the CEOs in our study spent less time with lower-level managers (14%, on average) and even less time with rank-and-file employees (about 6%, on average). However, our research suggests that effective CEOs need to be careful to maintain a human face in the organization.”

They Manage Using Broad Integration Mechanisms

What did he say?  Effectively, CEOs set the strategy but then use processes to ensure compliance.  Most used operating reviews and other regular reviews to monitor organizational progress to their agenda.  But setting the agenda, or strategy, is the most important step.

“The CEO’s single most powerful lever is ensuring that every unit—and the company as a whole—has a clear, well-defined strategy. Strategy creates alignment among the many decisions within a business and across the organization. By spending time on strategy, a CEO provides direction for the company, helps make its value proposition explicit, and defines how it will compete in the marketplace and differentiate itself from rivals. Strategy also provides clarity on what the company will not do. A compelling strategy—if well understood throughout the organization—is motivating and energizing. And without clarity on strategy, the CEO will be drawn into too many tactical decisions.”

They are Always in Meetings

The top suggestion for improvement here was to delegate attendance at meetings that the CEO may not need to attend.  A relative significant share of meeting attendance was a result of tradition and could be delegated.  CEOs should also challenge meeting length from a very typical standard of 60 minutes.  Often CEOs confess that those standard meetings could be accomplished in 30 or even 15 minutes.  One CEO recommended, “Whatever they ask for, cut it in half.”

Also, “most of our CEOs were dismayed to discover how little time they spent with their customers—just 3%, on average.”

They Juggle Many External Constituencies

CEOs are regularly being asked for their involvement in community and social issues that are worthy.  “There is a real risk that CEOs will get distracted by outside activities not directly connected to the business, where they are in high demand”  Though the CEO’s presence can be important, overseeing and managing such work does not require the CEO and can be delegated to direct reports, for whom it is motivational and provides professional development opportunities.


Good leaders matter.  Being a CEO has enormous consequences for everyone in the organization and is a highly challenging role to do well.  There are endless ideas about how to improve time management.  The first step is to understand where time is being taken up, finding your priorities, and diligently focusing on sticking to that agenda where possible.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.

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5 Steps to Avoid a Cash Crunch


As a turnaround professional, I help companies that have fallen behind in their financial obligations to creditors, employees, and other stakeholders. The cash problems a company experiences usually start small but can grow over time to become almost unmanageable. For instance, a company may show the first symptoms of financial distress by stretching payables with a handful of creditors. These problems may grow to affect a greater number of creditors and in larger dollar amounts, which put the company in a deeper hole. The problems can eventually become so great that they reduce the number of options available to a company and jeopardize its very survival.

Many of the problems these companies face can be avoided with more effective cash management discipline. Below are five steps business owners should use to survive a cash crunch. The earlier a company can adopt these, the better chance it has of successfully weathering the storm. In other words, these steps help ensure a cash crunch does not become a cash crisis.

1. Control and manage cash:

Managing cash can mean a lot of things, but the following three elements are key: First, ensure there is discipline around the number and types of ways cash can be spent by the business. Company leaders should limit the number of signatories on its accounts, reduce the number of employees with company credit cards, and be sure oversight exists for processing trade payables. In theory, they should channel all the company’s spending to a few trusted individuals. Nothing should go out the door that the CEO or CFO is not aware of.

Second, it’s essential a company forecast its cash position weekly, including cash receipts and disbursements. All too often, a prospective client in a cash crisis explains that the sudden crunch was unexpected. A cash crisis is always unexpected when the company does not forecast cash! If the company had forecasted cash, it would have had weeks to prepare and mitigate the crisis.

Last, find hidden sources of cash. These might be stale legal retainers that have never been refunded, dormant cash accounts, unclaimed property, collection of tax credits, and so forth. Every business has hidden cash in some form, and it’s usually large enough to fund an entire payroll or two.

2. Find expense savings:

Companies usually have no problem ramping up cost structures during good times, but it’s rarely as easy to squeeze costs out of the business during bad times. Most businesses in a state of decline assume a slump in sales is temporary and that it just needs to weather the storm. While this can be true in some cases, it’s important to recognize when cost cuts are necessary, and how to effectively make them. Business owners must be quick to respond when expense cuts are necessary. Any delay in making expense cuts will cause a cash crunch. When expense savings includes downsizing staff, it’s important the company seek qualified help to comply with local and federal employment laws.

3. Collect from customers:

Cash is king during a cash crisis. Business leaders should accelerate efforts to collect cash, invoice customers as quickly as possible, offer more generous discounts for more timely payments and shorten payment terms altogether, and aggressively collect from past due customers. Management should hire legal help to perfect security interests and/or file bond claims. For businesses where customer relationships are longstanding, owners or other leaders with strong relationships should get involved with collection activities.

4. Negotiate with trade creditors:

Keeping communication channels open with vendors is critical. Start early to let vendors know you will be paying them later than normal terms. It is critical to keep their trust to keep valuable products and services flowing. When things get really tight, it will be easier to negotiate with them if you have communicated along the way. Negotiating with creditors can be a delicate effort, and companies should retain qualified legal counsel to help. With the right help, companies can usually find significant short-term cash savings by restructuring trade payables, lengthening payment terms, receiving forgiveness of debt, and/or trading debt for equity.

5. Sell non-performing assets:

Just like households, companies accumulate a tremendous amount of stuff over their lifecycles. It’s important for company leaders to take action with slow-moving inventory, non-productive capital assets, and dormant real estate. Companies should also evaluate non-performing divisions, locations, and product lines. The sale of non-performing assets can be a significant source of capital.

Cash is the lifeblood of any business. The five steps above are proven tools used by successful companies to manage, preserve, and collect cash. It’s never too late to implement the steps, and the earlier a company can adopt these practices, the more likely it is to survive a cash crunch.

About the author:
Matt McKinlay is a partner at Advanced CFO, with 19 years of experience working with a wide array of companies in multiple industries as a senior leader. He has been CFO, CRO, or Receiver of numerous companies Matt is credentialed as a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and a Certified Turnaround Professional (CTP).

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The Pursuit of Less


As I exited a youthful mindset and began to mature in my thinking about life (read: life wasn’t always about me) I had a few key realizations.  These realizations have helped me remove the clutter of life & career, which have enabled me to focus.  The real power of focus is that our energy is funneled to a point and becomes singularly focused on the task at hand.  This is far more effective than being spread broadly.


The first came when I began to realize the boasting of how busy I was didn’t really matter to anyone, but was in fact, a statement of my inability to focus on what really mattered in my life.  It came as such a shock as the realization came.  I wish I could say I was immediately healed of the malady, but it did come gradually as my mindset continued to mature.


A second important milestone was when I realized the simple pleasure of decluttering.  The principle and freedom of ‘liberating’ a physical item from my possession each time I brought something new home was amazing.

It’s taken me many more years, and ongoing insights and reminders, to apply both of these principles to the less tangible pursuit of simplicity in my life and business.  However, applying it to the busy-ness of life and my business, are far more powerful and liberating.


Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, is my favorite thinker on the subject.  His relentless proclamations of simplification are music to my ears.  The book itself has become one of my favorite business and life books and the principles he reminds me of have been remarkably liberating.  The piece he recently authored in was yet another reminder, and a nice summary, of these important principles.

Perhaps paradoxically, if you’re looking for the ability to do more and to become more, there is no better starting point than simplification and focus.


I was reminded of the practical application of this when I read “How the Best CEOs get the Important Work Done”, another HBR article written by James Allen.  He fundamentally simplified the work of the CEO into 4 things:

“communication, communication, communication, and overseeing resource allocation to ensure that the priorities they’re communicating are actually the ones getting funded.”

Much of the rest of a CEOs workload can be delegated or eliminated.  Great CEOs do indeed stay focused on developing, communicating and ensuring the company strategy is executed.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.

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The Convergence of Finance and AI (Artificial Intelligence)


I was recently asked ‘How can the office of finance better line up people, processes, and technology to score high-value data combinations?’

Despite the ever-present demand for financials and reports, the role of finance has always been to move beyond reporting.  Its fundamental role is to use the resulting data to find answers to questions of strategy and direction.  Even though many finance personnel feel driven to move past report generation and into value added insight, many aren’t sure exactly how to do so.  And paradoxically, the convergence of finance, data visualization and data science – the very movement that will provide the tools necessary to add value – leaves many in the field of finance feeling threatened.

Fundamentally, according to Hilary Mason in a recent HBR article (How AI Fits Into Your Data Science Team), data science is

“counting things cleverly, predicting things, and building models on data.”

We finance people embrace and embody that theory.  But when data science becomes machine learning and artificial intelligence, then we begin to quiver and worry about our jobs.  But machine learning is still only data science with the ability to “incorporate feedback loops” which still requires human programming and the machinations of the human mind.

Even cleverly assisted by machines, our organizations and CEOs still expect us to answer the question of ‘so what?’  And for the foreseeable future, the human mind is still required here as well.  The continuing role of finance will be to embrace software and technology, release the ownership of repeatable processes to machines, and leverage their capabilities to assist in answering the ‘so what’.

Artificial intelligence and technology, rather than undermining finance’s role in the C-suite, is enhancing its ability to shine.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.

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Be a Better Leader and Be Present



I’ve had a significant personal awakening in the past 18 months.  Whereas I once genuinely felt I was a good listener and empathizer before, I experienced a pretty stark realization mid-last year: I began learning from and observing a couple of individuals who helped me see that I wasn’t really connecting with others as well as opportunities allowed.  If I were to summarize briefly the interpersonal skill I was missing, it was true empathy.  I’ve recently been impressed by the CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella’s musings on empathetic leadership.  In today’s world of increasing distraction supported by the always connectedness of our devices and the change that has brought to an ever-connected workplace, being there in the moment when you’re talking with people is becoming increasingly rare.  I don’t think many would dispute this.


Not-So-Present Leadership

Perhaps the greatest embodiment of being a distractible leader was found when I was a young CFO during my interactions with a consultant who was brought in during a difficult period.  This consultant was distracted by his devices more than anyone else I’ve worked with.  He almost never looked at you in meetings.  Rather, he was head down with his phone or computer.  It was so bad it was “almost” funny.  In our frustrations, many of us would just stop talking to see how long it would take before he even noticed.

The “funny” thing is, nearly all of us have the same problem to one degree or another.  However, we are either unaware of it or we think we’re sly enough to not get caught with our distractions of our devices or just internal chatter in our own mind.  Either of these behaviors takes us out of the moment and limits our ability to truly connect with another.

Leadership from Alongside

When I read Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter’s HBR article on being present as a leader, I was further inspired and validated in my own awakening.  While our traditional understanding of leadership is one who is out front and literally leading or pulling along an organization, perhaps true leadership is done alongside the people.  It is being with them in the struggle, listening carefully, and seeking real understanding without being distracted.  And let’s be honest… it is so easy to be distracted today.

Being Present

Hougaard and Carter offer us four points to keep in mind as we seek to be powerful leaders who deeply understand the individual and the challenge at hand.  This level of understanding only comes by being present.  If you aspire to be a great leader, you must be present.  Here are some of their suggestions as found in their HBR article:


  • Be Here Now: Stay on task, listen carefully and put away distractions.
  • Plan for Presence: Plan moments into your day to connect with people in genuine, heartfelt ways.
  • Do Less, Be More: Said another way, listening is often the greater solution than making recommendations.  A comical but poignant example is the clip “It’s Not About the Nail.” Funny, sad and true at work just as much as it is at home.
  • Embodied Presence: Be self-aware.  Know when you have internal distractions, and then know how to solve them or place them aside momentarily so that you can be present with people around you.

As you are increasingly present with people, you’ll find that they’re more able to share with you.  Those opportunities are gifts to connect in deeper ways.  They are opportunities to validate their experience to let them know you understand.  That understanding is where the real opportunity to “lead” begins.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.


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Disagree & Commit


When I made a move from the East Coast to the Intermountain West, I found myself in what some might call a radically different work environment. Some fans of a more direct approach might call it “honesty vs. dishonesty.”  The same principle but viewed from the more “compassionate” side might call it “heartlessness vs. empathy.” But inside of the change in styles, I was witnessing a real cultural challenge around the vulnerability and honesty to share what you feel as a leader rather than shy away from your own thoughts; sharing your instincts and feelings instead of hiding them for fear of offending.

Now I, for one, believe you can be honest about others’ performances or behaviors, your feelings on a matter that a colleague may feel differently on, or any other concept with which an organization is struggling without offending others. You can be direct, honest and empathetic all at once… and for most of us, with practice, we can do it and have others feel our vulnerability and genuine concern.

Tomasz Tunguz, a venture capitalist at Redpoint, recently wrote about this topic.  He skews toward the direct approach clearly, but has elements of empathy in his writing as well. It’s worth reading his thoughts. One statement he makes is a quote from a well-known supporter of the direct feedback, Jeff Bezos of Amazon:

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit. “Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.”

Yes, it does require backbone to be direct. However, it also requires empathy to maximize leadership impact. Directness without empathy relies upon a leadership based in fear. But directness paired with empathy is true leadership.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.

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Microsoft CEO on Empathy & Leadership


As I sat in a packed room a week ago listening to an almost mythical figure, the CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella, I found myself fully drawn in. Here was a longtime employee of a company long viewed as dominant but perhaps also corporate, bureaucratic and stiff. Yet here was the CEO of that company, emanating warmth and vulnerability. He felt genuinely concerned and empathetic. I was further surprised then when he began speaking about leadership in terms not so much about vision and strategy, but far more interpersonal and empathetic. Little wonder, then, that the company has shifted.

Satya began a book tour after his recent publication of “Hit Refresh,” and made a stop in my town to address a packed room that was celebrating tech leadership. Days later this article appeared, and I was impressed that he remained on-point in his tour. Here is one great line from a nice summary article:

Yet, Nadella admits that showing empathy doesn’t always come easily. It must be consciously cultivated and put into practice “Now, the challenge, though, is you can’t just say—I’ll go to work and turn on my empathy…,” he said. “I’m not even claiming that empathy is innate, it is something that needs to be developed…”

In the past year of my life, I’ve also been on a journey of enlightenment around empathy in leadership. It was truly refreshing to hear another espousing some of the feelings on the subject I’ve felt lately.

David ChaseManaging Partner at Advanced CFO, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With nearly 20 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $0.5 billion.

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