When other families were making merry as the century turned on New Year’s Eve 1999, Alan Levin interrupted a family ski trip in Colorado to be at his desk.
Levin, who was CEO of the Happy Harry’s drug store chain then, was anxious Y2K would upend his computer system. Programmers had predicted havoc because computers’ digital dates were designed for the 20th Century.
“I wanted to be in the office when the conversion happened,” Levin said. “The truth is I wouldn’t have know what to do if something had happened.”
Nothing happened. But Levin was there.
“I was sitting at my desk. Nobody else was there,” he said. “Sometimes we have this view of ourselves that we’re more important than we are.”
He jokes that he was eligible to join the national Young Presidents’ Organization when he became CEO at age 31, but he didn’t. “I was never a member because I thought I was too busy,” Levin said. “A lot of us feel we’re far more critical than we really are. Guess what. The business will go on.”
While Levin jokes that his contemporaries once unwound at the bar at the Columbus Inn, more executives today are releasing tension at the gym.
Many arrive at 5 a.m. for a literal running start to their days. With roller-coaster schedules and high-pressure jobs, most say the early morning hours are the only ones they can completely control.
Early and often
Wearing her Apple Watch, Christiana Care CEO Janice Nevin exercises in the early-morning yoga class three times a week, a workout with a trainer twice a week, walking with her neighbors at least once on the weekends. “If it doesn’t happen then, it probably won’t happen at all,” she said. “Works hours are predictable in that they are unpredictable. Generally, I have more opportunity to manage the beginning of my day.”
Dr. Nevin, who confesses to a weakness for chocolate, tries to exercise six times a week – not counting the exercise she does at her desk. No, not paper pushing.
“I have a treadmill desk in my office,” she said. “It ensures that I stand more and move during a typical day.”
For 35 years, Dennis Rochford has been hitting the gym for 45 minutes before he goes off to his job as president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River. “I’m in and out in 45 minutes,” he said. “That way I’m able to get to Wilmington or Philadelphia on time.”
Clarity boosts performance
Bruce Colbourn works 50 to 60 hours a week as a senior vice president at PNC Bank. He volunteers and he’s a single parent of a 10-year-old, so he squeezes in exercise when he can. When he can is 5:15 a.m. He’s usually at the Brandywine or Central Y by then.
A lifelong runner, he hung up his running shoes after a stress fracture in 2013, but he works out at the Y, uses an exercise bike and free weights at home and often rides bikes with his son.
He said he was gaining weight after his second son was born in 2004, but he’s managed his weight since then, and, at 59, he says the exercise gives him stamina.
“On the days you work out you come into work and you feel good mentally and physically. There’s a lot of clarity that exercise brings. And, if you feel better, you’re going to perform better.”
‘Time to think’
Rick Gessner puts in 50-plus hours as a vice president at Capital One 360. Some days he’s in before 7 a.m.; others he’s working till midnight. He also has three kids ages 8 to 12, and serves on nine nonprofit boards.
Luckily, his bank offers an onsite gym and health center. He uses it three times a week and works out at the Y at least once over the weekend. But he also swims in the ocean and rides bikes with his wife and kids in the summer. “I don’t sleep a lot, but that’s OK,” he said.
“Exercise is not just physical. It’s also mental. It gives me time to think,” Gessner said. “To me, it’s an investment in myself. People have to make time for themselves. The payoff is you’ll have a higher energy level and, frankly, I think you think more clearly.”
‘The way we are today’
David Lyons, president of Lyons Global Insurance Services, says if somebody saw him they might assume he doesn’t do anything, but the self-effacing exec plays squash and rides his bike frequently, and, in the summer, he takes long walks on the Rehoboth boardwalk. He says it’s rejuvenating when he’s facing 60-hour workweeks and never-ending e-mails.
“Unfortunately, the way we are today, we are all working all the time, so it’s hard to find time, but wellness is a big thing. It just releases stress and it makes you feel good,” said Lyons, who sometimes hires a chair-massage company to help his staff de-stress.
Hospital is always open
People in Shana Ross’s office don’t just have long hours – they run a 24/7 operation.
Ross is vice president of human resources at Bayheath Medical Center in Dover. Because the hospital operates around the clock, Ross says she, the department’s six managers and the 36 staffers support each other’s efforts to stay healthy. “If one of us is running a race or something, we all try to participate,” she said. “We look out for each other.”
“When you run a 24/7 operation, you know that’s what you signed up for and you always need to be accessible,” Ross said. “I get up very early. Most of the time it’s 5 a.m. I have a treadmill in my home. If I had to get up at 5 and go somewhere, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
Ross said it helps that the hospital offers lunch-and-learns to help employees stay healthy.
‘Helps with everything’
Mary Field puts in 45 to 50 hours a week as general manager of Noble’s Pond Homes, the Dover retirement community, and she often spends another eight or 10 on calls or e-mails from home. “If I go straight home, I open the iPad and I’m looking at it as soon as I’m in the door,” she said. “But I love my job so it’s not drudgery to me.”
With a busy family life and volunteer work, she still finds time to ride her bike – at 5:30 a.m.
“It keeps me focused, and it helps with everything. It doesn’t just help your body. It helps your brain,” she said. “No matter what happens the rest of the day, you did one thing for yourself.”
As for Alan Levin, who was too busy to exercise as a CEO, he’s now retired.
At his two sons’ urging, he just started working with personal trainer Maria Lucey at the beaches. He says he wants to get healthier so he can enjoy his family, especially his 23-month-old granddaughter.