The View

DJ like Goldman’s next CEO, paint like Churchill, golf like a deal-maker – a good leader has hobbies

Stephen Vines says David Solomon’s unusual pastime shows how having a life away from work need not be a detriment to success, whereas Elon Musk’s thoughtless comments in the aftermath of the Thai soccer team’s rescue show that a narrow focus on work can be bad for business

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2018, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 July, 2018, 10:47pm

DJ D-Sol is better known in banking circles as David Solomon, the high flier who is about to become Goldman Sachs’ next chief executive. Aside from moonlighting as an electronic dance disc jockey, Solomon is partial to adventurous sports, collects fine wines and has a lively interest in gastronomy. In other words, he has quite a life outside banking.

Yet Solomon is also regarded as being full on when it comes to the banking business, so has clearly found a way of having a varied life away from his desk.

Is this a good thing? Are corporate leaders, or any other kind of leaders, likely to do their jobs better if they have other lives, lives that are very different from their day jobs?

Clearly Goldman’s board must have thought that Solomon’s range of interests were no bar to his selection as chief executive. But in the intense world of finance, it is not uncommon to come across senior managers who boast about how long they stay in the office and proclaim their ability to stay focused on the job to the exclusion of all else.

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In their eyes, any kind of diversion results in a lack of attention and threatens to undermine results. The contrary view is that having a depth of character and varied experience is more likely to produce better results.

From my experience, the very worst managers are mono-focal not just because they are boring but because their limited range of experiences makes them rather rigid in approaches to business and stifles all important creativity.

But this outside interest stuff can be taken too far. Britain, where I come from, has a long tradition of so-called “gentlemen” corporate leaders who give the impression that business is rather sordid and that their “real lives” are somehow at a far more elevated level, often to do with sport or maybe some kind of refined cultural interest.

This is all tied up in Britain’s stifling class system, which is alleged to have disappeared but lingers with astonishing tenacity. This being so, there is still a class of company bosses who spend their days dreaming about, say, hunting or sailing and regard their cumbersome day jobs as little more than an aggravating chore. It comes as no surprise to discover that these people tend to have inherited their wealth and positions and thus have little idea how the wealth was created in the first place.

Of course, some of these pleasurable distractions are associated with the kinds of social activity that oil the wheels of business. It is, for example, hardly unknown for business deals to be made on a golf course or at a bar.

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The point, however, is that people with a deep hinterland tend to come equipped with a skill set that helps solve problems, provides instinctive understanding and even the kind of empathy which can be in short supply in the business world where there is undue reliance on a fiscal bottom line.

Britain’s highly successful wartime leader Winston Churchill often took time off to paint and read bulky histories while being pressed for decisions that had to be made. Mind you, ogres such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin had a deep interest in music, which appears to have done nothing to lessen their ghastliness. So a breadth of interests is hardly a guarantee of desirable leadership.

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Perhaps what really matters is time management; always distrust anyone who tells you they are too busy to take time out, what they really mean is that they are too incompetent to manage their time to the best advantage. Time taken to stand back and do something different is almost certainly time not wasted.

It’s a point unlikely to be lost on Tesla’s PR people after the company’s boss, Elon Musk was stupid enough to accuse one of the Thai soccer team rescuers of being a paedophile. With a greater awareness of the world around him and a pause for thought, surely this would not have happened.

Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and a broadcaster