Hard Times

Why finance executives are overworked and under stress.

“That sort of prepared me for what we’re doing now,” comments Higginbotham, who in September completed writing all of TiVo’s internal-controls documentation to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley.

While most finance executives would embrace a lower-stress workplace, a few are like frogs who really enjoy a nice, steamy bath. It seems no amount of work or family stress is too much for these outliers, who thrive in conditions that would make others wither.

Higginbotham, 44, typically puts in 60-hour weeks, but he logged 100-hour weeks in August finishing up TiVo’s documentation. He still finds time to work out, be with his six children (whom he and his wife home-school), attend the kids’ sporting events, and complete his monthly service commitment to the Army Reserve. He attributes his ability to withstand all the stress to his 14 years of training as a Green Beret — a form of education that not many finance executives share.

“It’s been a mental challenge more than a physical challenge,” he says of the workload and, especially, the uncertainty surrounding the internal-controls documentation requirements. Once his Sarbox-compliance work is completed, he says he intends to reduce his weekly hours and spend more time with his family. His wife remains understandably skeptical.

“I told my wife that I was cutting back soon,” he admits. “She said, ‘That’s not the first time you’ve said that.’”

Kris Frieswick is a senior writer at CFO.

Living with Terror

When U.S. Companies locate offshore divisions in Middle Eastern and other terror-prone locales, a whole new type of executive stress develops. Just ask Lee Skidmore. As the regional controller of the Middle East and African divisions of Lucent Technologies, he was deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1997 to help run a major telecom project with the Saudi telephone company.

The culture shock was “very stressful,” he says. “At the airport, they hand you a list of things that are illegal, under punishment of death.” The job was stressful as well, demanding that he adjust to an entirely new way of doing business, including attending business meetings over tea until 1 a.m.

Eventually, Skidmore moved his wife and daughter to stay with him in Riyadh. But with the Iraq war looming in February 2003, he sent them back to New Jersey — a decision that may have been lifesaving. On May 12, 2003, terrorists attacked three housing compounds in Riyadh, including the one where Skidmore lived. A bomb blew apart his daughter’s former bedroom.

“For 40 minutes,” he says, “I have never been so scared in my life. For the next hour, I didn’t know who was shooting whom, who the people with guns were, or if they were shooting at me. The phones were out. Half the house was blown in.”

A week later, after helping his staff relocate to the United Arab Emirates, Skidmore flew home to Newark. Several weeks later, he made the trip back to the UAE, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that he no longer felt comfortable in the Middle East.

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