Heidi Roizen: I Survived Small Biz And Corporate America

A veteran of two business lives talks about the demands and differences of both

At 39, Heidi Roizen has seen it all. In her 20s, she cofounded a software company, T/Maker, that grew to 100 employees before being sold in 1994 for an estimated $20 million. Last year she parachuted into a top position at Apple Computer Inc. Her charge: to shore up relations with a software-developer community that had grown wary of creating products for the troubled company. But overseeing 300 people and dealing with 12,000 developers at a difficult time in Apple's history proved too much for this mother of two. She now works from her Atherton (Calif.) home as a consultant. Roizen recently shared her thoughts about the work/family conundrum with Assistant Managing Editor Sarah Bartlett.

Q: Many people have the impression that running your own company is easier and more flexible than working in a corporate environment. Was that your experience?

A: Being a CEO was really fun. But there's a great misperception that you have this tremendous freedom. That's true in terms of setting a company's culture, its ethics, making big decisions. But you don't have the freedom to quit your job--and that would have been a great freedom to have at times.

Q: Were you glad to become an employee?

A: I was looking forward to not being a CEO. I thought it would be fun to not have that burden. Always being on stage, it's a horrible feeling. Everyone is always relying on you.

When I was at T/Maker, I invited a business-school professor I knew really well to do a seminar with us. He was very inspiring, got us all pumped up, and then he said: "Okay, now create a mission statement." And everyone just sat looking at me, expecting the answer. But I didn't know what to say. At that moment, I felt utterly hopeless as a CEO. Finally, someone else said, "Make stuff people want to buy?" And everyone said: "Yeah, that sounds good."

Q: So you sold the company and soon after, joined Apple. What was that transition like?

A: The first week after my appointment was announced--before I had even started--I had 500 E-mails with requests for help from the developer community. When you're CEO of your own company, you're dealing with all kinds of different issues: manufacturing, labor law, finance--but it's within a confined environment. When I was at T/Maker, we had a couple hundred thousand clients. At Apple, we had 25 million customers. I was responsible for 12,000 development companies. The scale was overwhelming. I felt I couldn't develop the expertise.

At T/Maker, I knew my product, I knew the people I worked with. At Apple, you can't know your product or your employees with that same level of understanding. At T/Maker, I was the spiritual leader. By definition, I pre-dated everyone who was there because I founded the company. That gives you a different kind of credibility.

Obviously, you have to rely on the infrastructure, the organizational structure. It wasn't that I didn't know how to do that. But it's a very different style of management. And, of course, Apple was in a state of crisis, which added to the pressure to make decisions quickly.

Q: How bad was the pressure at Apple?

A: I was working every waking hour. I was sneaking off between courses at dinnertime to check my E-mail. And as soon as the kids were in bed, I was back to the study for another three hours of it. Everywhere I looked I saw something that needed to be done, and as a senior executive I didn't feel I could say: "That's somebody else's job."

Q: Did you talk with people at Apple about finding a part-time position there?

A: The truth is, you can't be halfway in a position like that. What was I going to say: "No, I don't want to meet with our largest customer? No, I can't resolve these employees' problems?" I just

didn't see a way to turn down the volume without turning it off completely.

Q: So now what?

A: For the first time in my adult life, I'm taking the time to consider what it is that leads to out-of-control situations. I'm trying to find fulfilling work that does not involve those aspects.

My first conclusion is, I don't want to manage a large number of employees. That raises leadership issues, hours. Being a role model takes time and energy, and I don't think you can be a part-time manager, at least not the way I do it. Second, I don't want a job where you have a public constituency. I don't want to be on a podium any more. The third thing is, I don't want any global responsibility. I don't want to be getting on airplanes all the time because it adds to the stress when you have small kids. And the fourth is, I don't want to be in a position where crises rule the day.

Q: How are you enjoying being a consultant?

A: So far so good. I'm much more in control of my schedule. I currently work about 30 hours a week. I'm picking interesting projects at interesting companies. As my father, who was a consultant in the video field, once told me, you can set a high premium on things that you don't want to do. I tell my clients that if there's something that absolutely requires me to travel, they will have to pay me a $1,000-a-day premium, just to force me out of my house.

But the best thing about this new role is, it allows me to be at home for the serendipitous part of my home life. The other day, my kids were playing out in the yard, and they got really dirty. I asked my nanny to take them for a bath. In the old days, I would have snuck off to look at some E-mail, but I decided to go and watch them splash around in the tub instead. That's the kind of thing I wanted to be able to do.

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