The greatest memo about work-life balance ever?


Photo courtesy MongoDB

When a male CEO says he's stepping down from his job to spend more time with his family, it's often thought of as code for a tension-filled resignation that allows an executive to save face.

But Max Schireson, CEO of MongoDB, a fast-growing database vendor, really means it.

In an extraordinary blog entry titled "Why I am leaving the best job I ever had," the Silicon Valley executive wrote Tuesday that the only way he could balance his life was to step away from his work. "I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role," writes Schireson, who will remain with the company as vice chairman. "Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family."

Schireson, whose family is based in California while the majority of the company's work is based in New York, has three children (aged 14, 12 and 9) and is married to a doctor and professor at Stanford who does research and runs a training program for high-risk obstetricians. In the post, he calls her "a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience."

He writes of the things he's missed (a family puppy being hit by a car, emergency surgery for his son) and the miles he's flown (he's on track for 300,000 this year). While his travel should scale back significantly, Schireson isn't quitting MongoDB entirely. He'll transition the CEO job in a month to Dev Ittycheria, whom the company named as his successor Tuesday. Schireson will remain vice chairman, and work full-time — "but 'normal full time' and not 'crazy full time,' " he writes.

Perhaps the best part of the blog post is Schireson's public recognition of the double standards and differing expectations that male and female executives face. He acknowledges that while the press often asks female CEOs (GM's Mary Barra, PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi) how they do it all, no one's ever asked him a similar question.

"As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO." The same goes for people he and his wife know personally. "Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don't ask me."

Here is the full text of his blog entry, which you can also read in original format on his site, http://maxschireson.com/:

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

* I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.
* I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every 2-3 weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery.
* I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she is a doctor and professor at Stanford where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training program for high risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques, and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.

A few months ago, I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job. MongoDB is a special company. In my nearly 4 years at the company, we have raised $220 million, grown the team 15x and grown sales 30x. We have amazing customers, a great product which gets better with every release, the strongest team I have ever worked with, and incredible momentum in the market. The future is bright and MongoDB deserves a leader who can be “all-in” and make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, I cannot be that leader given the geography of the majority of the company in New York and my family in California.

I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so. At first, it seemed like a hard choice, but the more I have sat with the choice the more certain I am that it is the right choice.

In one month, I will hand the CEO role to an incredibly capable leader in Dev Ittycheria. He will have the task of leading the company through its next phase of growth (though thankfully not of commuting across the country while doing it!). I know the company will be in great hands; his skills fit our next phase of growth better than mine do. And I will be there to help (full time, but “normal full time” and not “crazy full time”) in whatever areas he needs help. More about the announcement can be found in today’s press release.

I hope I will be able to find a way to craft a role at MongoDB which is engaging, impactful, and compatible with the most important responsibilities in my life. As great as this job has been, I look forward to creating one which is even better.

– Max

Read also:

Indra Nooyi on why women can't have it all

Why pay equity and work-life balance aren't just women's issues

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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