By LARRY KANTER
If this boat goes down, the entire L.A. economy could be in hot water.
Next month, SunAmerica Inc. Chairman Eli Broad and his wife, Edyth, are taking their customary two-week summer vacation in this case, a chartered cruise to the Greek Islands.
And they're bringing along a few of their closest friends.
The list of those joining the Broads on their Aegean adventure is said to include a veritable who's who of L.A.'s civic and business elite (and their spouses): Mayor Richard Riordan; Barry Munitz, president of the Getty Center; Stephen Bollenbach, chairman and chief executive of Hilton Hotels Corp.; Bruce Karatz, chief executive of Kaufman & Broad Home Corp.; and supermarket magnate Ronald Burkle, chairman of Fred Meyer Inc.
Broad refused to confirm the guest list. (So did Riordan, who quipped, "I'm jealous if that's going to happen." The mayor did say he was planning a cycling trip to the San Juan Islands.) But whoever ends up attending, Broad stressed that little business is likely to be transacted aboard the 165-foot yacht, which will be staffed by a crew of 11.
Instead, the voyage will be a chance for old friends to relax and catch up with one another.
"The closest we get to business is talking about civic affairs, talking about the future of L.A.," said Broad, who often vacations with his high-powered friends and colleagues. "We all love the city. But we talk about all of the things that friends talk about our families, how our kids are doing. There really is no business being done."
Broad's excursion is certainly unusual after all, how many other summer vacations qualify as bona fide CEO summits? But in other ways, Broad is hardly alone. It's summertime in L.A., and with temperatures reaching three digits and the air an unusually thick shade of brown, the city's executives are beginning to hit the road that is, if the currently overheated economy will allow them to break away at all.
These days, that's a pretty big if. After years of recession, with the deals coming fast and furious, a good number of L.A. executives are in no mood to take a breather just yet despite the undeniable lure of a week or two at the beach.
"The business is so intense and frenzied now, it's put a real crimp in any summer vacation plans," said Jim Freedman, managing director of the Brentwood-based investment banking shop Barrington Associates.
Freedman had intended to take his wife and three children to Hawaii for a week or so this summer. Instead, they settled for a long weekend to Orlando, where they visited Disney World, Cape Kennedy and Universal Studios. And even during the brief trip, Freedman found himself calling the office at least twice a day to check in.
"I try to spend whatever quality time I have with my family," he said, "but there are deals and clients and they demand instant service."
Freedman hopes to make it up to his family this winter, when merger and acquisition activity typically slows down, with a nine- or 10-day trip to Hawaii. As for the future, "sometime in the next five years," he said wistfully, "I want to go someplace where there are no telephones."
Even in out-of-the-way environs, where long-distance lines are a luxury, the resourceful executive can remain connected. Last summer, when Broad chartered a private yacht for a two-week cruise along the remote Mediterranean coast of Turkey, he arranged for his mail and faxes to be overnighted to him at various ports-of-call.
"I try not to work too much (on vacation)," said Broad. "But I am involved in so many different things. It's not like I can tune out for 13 days."
Others have no problem doing just that. Ed Roski, president of Majestic Realty Co., recently returned from a 25-day excursion to the highlands of Pakistan, where he accompanied a trio of professional mountaineers on their ascent of the famed Himalayan peak, K2. While Roski did not attempt to scale the 28,250-foot mountain himself, his days were spent hiking 10 hours a day, traversing vast fields of glacial ice and scaling steep rock faces, to reach base camp at 15,600 feet.
Needless to say, there are no telephones or fax machines at 15,000 feet. That didn't bother Roski one bit despite the fact that Majestic Realty currently is knee deep in one of L.A.'s largest real estate developments, the new Staples Center sports arena downtown.
"It's hard to get away, but when I get away, I'm gone," said Roski. "Fortunately, I've got real good people who work with me here."
You can tell a lot about an executive by the way he or she vacations, according to Judy B. Rosener, a professor of management at UC Irvine.
"Where and how people take vacations says a lot about how they feel about their relationship to their job or their title," she said. "Some people define themselves so much by their work that they need a fix every day they can't disconnect, even for recreation. Whereas others can really relax and know that their house is in order. It's like a Rorschach Test. It's very revealing."
If that's the case, Ron Rogers' summer vacation reveals the public relations executive as an extremely free spirit. The president of Rogers & Associates recently returned from a three-week trip to Botswana. One week of that was spent on horseback in the nation's famous Okavango Delta, where Rogers and his wife found themselves galloping across the flood plain amid a herd of zebras.
Later, their Land Rover was charged by an angry elephant, which broke its tusk in the vehicle's front grill.
If Rogers had felt the need to check in at the office, here's what he would have had to do: Paddle a canoe a half-hour across a lake to a dirt road; take a 45-minute jeep ride to a small airstrip; and take another 45-minute flight to the nearest city, where there was a telephone.
Fortunately, Rogers felt no need to call home. "Because you are in such a remote area, where you don't have phones, fax machines or newspapers, you feel so refreshed when you get back," he said. "One needs to let go."
Letting go may be good for the mind, but it's good for business, too, said Alison A. Winter, president and chief executive of Northern Trust Bank of California N.A. and chairwoman of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
"I really try to leave everything behind," said Winter, who late last month paid a two-week visit with eight other L.A. couples to France and Italy. "It's better to let my managers manage when I'm gone. You don't want to be a bottleneck where all the decisions have to come through you. That's not healthy for the company."
Still, Winter admitted that it's hard to detach completely. Back in 1982, she spent two weeks at a cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness, far from any telephones. When she returned to civilization, the stock market was up 600 points. Her office was in a frenzy.
"For years after that, I could not allow myself to be out of touch," Winter said. "It took me a long time to get over that." Now, she leaves an itinerary with her staff and occasionally checks her voicemail.
Chef Joachim Splichal, owner of the Patina Group, which operates the Patina and Pinot restaurants, said he received as many as 20 faxes a day on his recent trip to Southern France with his wife and 2-year-old twin sons. That's because the company is opening a new bistro, Pinot Provence, in Costa Mesa and also is submitting a bid to take over the food services at the L.A. County Museum of Art.
Nonetheless, Splichal said that two weeks in a quiet seaside village, feasting on exotic seafood dishes and meeting with Basque vintners, was far more relaxing than being in Los Angeles despite the fact that he remained in constant contact.
"We walked on the beach, hung out in local restaurants, taught our children how to swim," he said a far cry from the often frantic 80- to 90-hour weeks he works while in L.A.
But others wonder, why take a vacation if you're going to spend all your time worrying about what's going on back home?
"I don't go away on trips to take the office with me," said Fred Roberts, president of the investment banking firm F.M. Roberts & Co. In the past, Roberts has ventured to China, Thailand, Tibet and Nepal. But this summer, with a pair of multimillion-dollar deals in the pipeline, he'll be doing his relaxing at his Mandeville Canyon home.
"For me, hanging around the house and not having to get on an airplane will be a peaceful and enriching way to spend the summer," he said.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.