Rise and shine: When top CEOs start their day

To get an insight into how high achievers organize their lives, The Guardian asked seven top businesspeople to run us through their working day. The bad news? A very early start is the key to success

By Patrick Kingsley and Laura Barnett  /  The Guardian

Sat, Apr 06, 2013 - Page 9

Tim Armstrong

Chief executive officer, AOL.

Gets up at 5am.

How and when does your morning start?

I usually get up at 5am or 5:15am. Historically, I would start sending e-mails when I got up. However, not everyone is on my time schedule, so I have tried to wait until 7am. Before I e-mail, I work out, read and use our products. By 7am, I usually have questions or feedback about AOL. I am not a big sleeper. Life is too exciting to sleep. [Huffington Post co-founder] Arianna Huffington is preaching sleep to me all the time, but I will need a DNA transplant to adhere to her advice. She is right, but I just cannot do it. I have three kids and my middle daughter (aged nine) has my sleep DNA, so she gets up and I drink coffee and she tells me about her life.

When you wake up, do you leap out of bed immediately?

Yes.

What time are you at your desk?

My desk starts the minute I leave my house. I have a driver and my commute is a little over an hour. I am very productive in the car.

Do you e-mail throughout the day?

I do most e-mails in the morning, during the commute and late at night. When I am at the office I try to listen and learn.

Do you have a secret e-mail address?

No. Do you?

What time do you go home?

Most days about 7pm and I get home at 8pm or just after. When I get home, I try to read my two daughters a book. They usually win and get two or three books. I eat dinner with my wife; she is a gourmet cook and her food beats most of the best restaurants in New York. After dinner, I play Nerf hoops with my 11-year-old son — full contact, losers out and no hanging on the rim.

What time do you go to bed?

Most nights about 11pm. Can be later if I have a dinner in the city.

How much sleep do you get?

I try to get six hours. I can operate on less, but it is not ideal.

What is your weekend like?

Friday night is family movie night. Saturday is sports with kids. I am coaching my son’s fifth grade basketball team on Saturday and Sunday and it is my favorite thing all week. Saturday night is date night with my wife and sometimes dinner with friends. Sundays are church, basketball and work, starting at 7pm — calls and e-mails.

Jayne-Ann Gadhia

Chief executive officer, Virgin Money.

Gets up at 6:20am.

How and when does your morning start?

Left to my own devices, which means assuming I do not have to travel, I get up every day at 6:20am. No alarm. That is just when I wake up every morning, weekends too. First thing I do is look at my e-mails and answer. I cannot stand having any not done. Then I look at the BBC news Web site, then Twitter. If that counts as an early start, I do it because I always like to be on top of work so I can enjoy the non-work stuff, like having breakfast with the family and talking to my daughter on the way to school, rather than being distracted by work. So it sort of helps me have a normal life.

What time are you at your desk?

If I am working in my home city of Edinburgh I am at my desk by 8:30am, having dropped Amy off at school. I e-mail all the time. It used to drive me mad, but that is now the way I keep on top of things. Multitasking has become essential as far as I can see. I do have a separate private e-mail address that fewer people know — but that gets quite busy too these days.

What time do you go home?

I try to be home by 7pm. If I am away I work until about 10pm — again, that is a way of not letting things encroach on normal life too much. I do work from home in the evening, but usually only in a multitasking sort of way. I certainly do not sit at a desk.

When is bedtime?

I try to be in bed by 10:30pm and I always sleep like a log. I need, and get, about eight hours a night, unless I’m traveling, when I just get what I can. I rarely feel tired. Life is too exciting. I always get straight out of bed when I wake up. I do not lie there doing my e-mails.

What is your weekend like?

I love my weekends. I try to run both days, before the rest of the family is up. Then being the normal taxi service for children kicks in. We usually have dinner with friends on a Saturday night and then more family stuff on a Sunday, until about 4pm. In the winter I like to be home then, curtains drawn, music on and getting us all ready for the week ahead — homework check, clothes check, scrubbed up — a nice tea, then settle in front of the television.

Hans Vestberg

Chief executive officer, Ericsson.

Gets up ‘early.’

What time do you get up?

It varies, but usually early.

What time do you start sending e-mails?

No day is similar to another, but usually mail is part of my start of the day. Our company never sleeps: We have business in 180 countries, so there are no real mornings or nights.

Do you e-mail first thing?

I often exercise (running or gym), especially when I am traveling.

What time are you at your desk?

Flexible on time, but seldom after 8am.

Do you e-mail only at fixed times?

I read mails throughout the day, but answer them more in the morning and evening.

Do you have a secret e-mail address that few people know?

No, my mail address is open for anyone and I read all my mails myself.

What time do you go home?

It depends on the day’s activities. If I am in Sweden, I try to get home to be with my children. I can do work after that from home.

What time do you go to bed?

Quite late.

How much sleep do you get?

It varies, but enough.

How much do you need?

Not too much.

When you wake up, do you leap out of bed immediately?

Yes.

What is your weekend like?

I spend time with my family and exercise. Of course there is no such thing as a “normal day” — depending on travel schedule and customer meetings, so the answers above are all approximations.

Karen Blackett

Chief executive officer, MediaCom UK.

Gets up at 5:45am.

What time do you get up?

At 5:45am three times a week to spend 45 minutes in my garage, which I have turned into a gym. Otherwise, I wake when my son comes into my room — any time between 6:30am and 7am.

When you wake up, do you leap out of bed immediately?

Define “leap” — I’d say I roll out of bed.

What time do you start sending e-mails?

I quickly scan my e-mails while my son is taking over my bed and having his milk. Urgent ones I reply to there and then. I flag others to follow up on my commute into work. My early start is due to the need to exercise more to keep fit as I get older and due to my three-year-old kick-starting my day (literally).

What time are you at your desk?

Between 8:30am and 9am. It depends on whether my son is at nursery and I do the nursery run, or at home with his nanny.

Do you e-mail throughout the day, or do you have fixed times at which you send messages?

I receive an average of 500 e-mails a day, so I e-mail throughout the day.

Do you have a secret e-mail address that few people know?

No, I’m accessible to everyone and there is no hierarchy.

What time do you go home?

I try to be home for 6:30pm, so that I can spend time with my son before he goes to sleep, read him his bedtime story and put him to bed at 7:30pm. My team knows that I’ll clock on again once Isaac is settled after 8pm and reply to e-mails or take calls. My clients also know that.

What time do you go to bed?

11:30pm.

How much sleep do you get?

Between six and seven hours. I am the mum of a three-year-old: you survive on what you can get.

What is your weekend like?

Isaac time, peppered with the odd bit of work when he is sleeping.

Vittorio Colao

Chief executive officer, Vodafone.

Gets up at 6am.

He gets up at 6am, exercises for 40 minutes then works continuously through the day with constant e-mails and meetings: “because people need to progress with decisions and logistics and technology today allows everybody to be always in contact.”

He works through until about 10:45pm — with a brief pause for dinner with family — before going to sleep by 10:30pm.

Weekends consist of four hours of exercise, then the remainder is split between time with his wife and children and preparing for the following week’s work.

Helena Morrissey

Chief executive officer, Newton Investment.

Gets up at 05:00.

What time do you get up?

5am, sometimes earlier. I get out of bed straight away and go downstairs to check and send emails on computer and BlackBerry. At 6.30am, my nine children start to get up.

How much sleep do you get?

Five to six hours. This is as much to do with having nine children as having a business job, but I do end up feeling a bit sleep-deprived. There is not a lot of slack. I put on the washing about twice before I go to work. People make resolutions to do more things, but one of my ambitions is to do slightly less. With children, you end up adjusting and not needing so much sleep. However, every now and again, you think: Oh, I could do with a proper eight hours.

What time are you at your desk?

About eight. I’m on my BlackBerry all the time.

When do you go home?

Around 6pm. The whole family tends to eat together at about 7.30pm. I work after supper, sending more emails, often to US-based colleagues, or doing two hours of prep for the morning’s meetings. I try to get to bed around 10pm and aim to be asleep by 11pm, but there’s usually one child who’s awake. With so many there’s bound to be one.

What is your weekend like?

On Saturday evening the whole family tends to sit down and watch a movie. On Sunday mornings, the children do their homework and I do mine. I spend Sunday evenings preparing the children’s schoolbags for the week ahead. It takes a little while, organising that many children, making sure the girls do not go off with the boys’ stuff. I have done that occasionally.

Heather Rabbatts

Non-executive director of the Football Association.

Gets up at 6am.

What time do you get up?

I am usually up by 6am, but wake earlier. I have always been an early riser. I love that sense of quiet first thing in the morning as the world (well, those of us on GMT) wakes up.

What time do you start sending emails?

By 8am — sometimes earlier, depending on what is on my mind.

Do you e-mail first thing?

If I am in London, I start the day with a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. If I am home in Kent, I feed my two spaniels, have a cup of tea and defend my digestive biscuits from being snaffled by my crafty dogs.

What time are you at your desk?

I am a bit of a wandering minstrel: My day often begins with breakfast meetings, before I head to my desk.

Do you e-mail throughout the day, or do you have fixed times at which you send messages?

I usually send e-mails throughout the day and into the evening. My business partners are in New York and LA, so e-mails and calls extend my working hours.

Do you have a secret e-mail address that few people know?

If I did, I would not say.

What time do you go home?

It varies as I usually have evening engagements.

Do you work from home in the evening?

I try not to work too much from home in the evening, but it depends what is going on.

What time do you go to bed?

I do not have a regular bedtime.

How much sleep do you get?

My sleep patterns vary. I used to be a bad sleeper, but I’m getting better with age. I am always up early, I never need an alarm and am instantly awake.

Do you feel tired?

Who doesn’t, sometimes?

What is your weekend like?

I walk the dogs, try to learn to ride my horse, who continually sees tigers lurking behind trees, spend time with my partner and friends, and smile, because life is to be lived.