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This Is What It’s Really Like To Be A CEO


Some people think being a CEO is a glamorous lifestyle.

They think it means jetting off to attend high-level meetings with important people. They see the CEO as the decider — the one who sets the course and watches things play out.

That’s not entirely correct.

While the role does have its perks, it’s not what most people imagine. It’s a much more tactical position. Less flying first class and more reviewing contracts and getting into the weeds on emails.

With that in mind, I decided to share a breakdown of an average week to give you a feel for what it’s really like.

My week actually starts on Sunday.

Sunday evening is when I begin reviewing what I have on my calendar for the upcoming week.

I take a hard look at every meeting I have scheduled, and I make sure each one is absolutely necessary. I do get overbooked occasionally, so I’ll have to cancel meetings or ask someone to reschedule.

The whole point is to give myself a glimpse at the week ahead.

It’s tough to plan everything out perfectly. So instead, I double check my meetings and set three goals I want to accomplish every day. Those daily goals are the most important things I have to do for that week, and they’re usually a combination of the following breakdown:

30% of my time is acting as a brand advocate.

People tend to see this part of my job as glamorous, but it’s still a grind in many ways.

It usually includes taking press calls, responding to PR emails and reporters, and traveling to attend different events where we are launching products or where I’m speaking about industry trends.

I’ll give you an example.

We recently took a trip to New York that lasted a day and a half. First, my team and I went to our pop up store, which ThirdLove held in collaboration with Genentech and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. We held press interviews, meet with Giuliana Rancic, were interviewed to create video content, and met many ThirdLove customers.

From there, we went to our branding agency in New York to have an hour-and-a-half meeting. Then it was on to an influencer dinner.

I hosted the event, gave a speech, met everyone afterwards — and then went home and passed out.

The next day was an early breakfast, press meetings, and then hosting a ThirdLove Bra Lab that over 150 women attended between 10am and 5pm. Finally, we hopped on a plane to travel back to San Francisco.

That’s the type of schedule you’re juggling when you travel as a CEO. It’s usually a great experience, but it’s not as though you’re going on vacation every other week.

25% of my week is dedicated to strategic business decisions.

This is where the major decisions come into play.

For instance, I might be going to a creative approval meeting where the team runs through every visual we’re going to produce over the next two weeks. Email, catalog, direct mail, Facebook — we go over them together to approve.

Or the meeting could be about product performance. In that case, we’re talking about how our bras are selling, which styles are our top performers, and where we should be focusing our efforts to market a new product.

This also includes data meetings, product launch strategies, and design presentations. Anything related to the tactical side of the business is fair game.

25% of my week is spent on people initiatives.

This part of my week includes things such as recruiting, interviewing, or having breakfast, lunch or coffee with potential candidates.

For example, our new head of data joined the company recently. So, one of my goals was to sit down with him and spend at least an hour doing onboarding.

This portion of my week could also include working through company cultural initiatives or talking the team through our next activity. I could even be helping roll out new HR programs, like our new performance review process.

15% of my time is set aside to touch base in one-on-one or small group meetings.

There’s a basic truth I think sometimes gets forgotten in the daily rush — leadership is about people.

One-on-ones are key if you want to really know what’s going on with your team.

I have weekly meetings with all my direct reports, where we discuss strategies, their teams, and anything blocking overall progress.

But as you grow, it becomes more difficult to stay in contact with every individual. That’s why I’ve started going to lunch with smaller subsets of teams.

If it’s marketing, I’ll grab lunch with the people working specifically on Facebook marketing. Maybe there are only three or four people in the group, but that small lunch really helps me understand what they’re working on, what ideas they have, or what’s holding them up. It’s also a way to get to know people on a much more personal level.

I learn a lot from these lunches, because they give me a chance to hear what individuals have to say directly. It’s not an update sent to my inbox. Someone is telling me about their work face-to-face.

5% of my time is spent managing investors and communicating with the team.

The caveat here is when you’re raising money, this grows to nearly 100% of your time. But at the moment, I’m more focused on communicating with investors, keeping them in the loop as needed, or hosting them in our offices if they want to swing by and visit.

At the end of every week, I also send out a newsletter to the team about our wins and what we have coming up. It’s a nice way to reflect on the past week and segue into the weekend.

And come Sunday evening, the clock resets — and I sit down to do it all over again.

Heidi Zak is the co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove. Prior to ThirdLove, Zak cut her teeth in retail at Aeropostale where she quickly rose to Director of the retail giant, launching and running the International Division, before becoming a marketing executive at Google. Zak holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Duke University and an MBA from MIT Sloan. In her free time she loves spending time with her two kids. Heidi has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People, Goldman Sachs 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, Business Insider's 30 Female-Founded Startups to Watch, and SF Business Times 40 Under 40. Follow her on Instagram: @Heidi.

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