“Find companies and bosses that understand that most of us are working this hard because we want to give our families and kids the best lives that we can” with Craig Duncan and Chaya Weiner
Find companies and bosses that fundamentally believe and practice ‘family first’, and understand that most of us are working this hard because we want to give our families and kids the best lives that we can. If you are able to find this, you will inevitably have more quality time with your kids as well as be more productive and happier at work. Easier said than done, but it is worth it in my opinion, even if you have to sacrifice in other areas. I have worked for companies that walk the walk when it comes to respecting family time and values. Prior employers SAS and Mastercard, and my current employer, Venuetize, would all be at the top of the list in this category, which I am very grateful for. However, I did not land at these companies by accident. I made this one of my top priorities in my job requirements every time and I am glad I did.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Craig Duncan. Craig is the chief revenue officer with a high-growth technology startup called Venuetize, which specializes in helping sports and entertainment organizations engage with fans and customers via mobile applications. Prior to Venuetize, he held sales leadership roles with several global technology companies, including EMC, SAS and Mastercard. He received his BA from Saint Anselm College and resides in Newburyport, Massachusetts with his wife of 16 years and their two daughters, ages 13 and 10.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I’m blessed to have grown up in a family of five, of which I’m the middle child to two incredible parents who just celebrated their 50th anniversary together last year. I was raised in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a coastal town about 35 miles northeast of Boston. My childhood was centered around quality time with family and friends, playing sports, and being outside and active as much as possible. My parents both worked well into their 60s, so I got an appreciation early in life for what it meant to work extremely hard professionally, but always prioritize family first.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I have a deep passion for sports which I attribute back to watching and playing sports with my dad ever since I was a young kid. I went to college and pursued a business degree, and took my first job as an inside sales rep at Bell Atlantic Nynex Mobile. My sister worked there at the time and got me an interview with the hiring manager. I’m quite certain he only hired me because he saw my experience as a youth basketball coach and that I was captain of my high school team. They needed some hoops talent at that time on a very competitive work basketball league.
That manager turned out to be the first of several in my career that were incredible mentors for me. I quickly came to appreciate the harder you work in sales and the more positive you can be regardless of workplace challenges that may exist, the more success you will likely have. I’m of the belief that you earn most of your luck in life, including your career. Even in this case, one could say I was lucky the hiring manager cared so much about basketball, but I tend to look at it as all the hard work I put in practicing basketball every day over the course of many years paid off for me and gave me a shot at my first job. I then took full advantage of the opportunity, working as hard as I possibly could to quickly become a top performer on the sales team.
It was shortly after the time that Moneyball become a best seller and global phenomenon, that I started to think about how I could combine my passion for sports with what I do for a living — which is helping clients improve their business through the use of data and technology. Once I saw a potential path to combine my passion for sports with my career, I was determined to make this dream a reality. The competitive spirit I developed playing sports at a very early age has always stuck with me in my professional life. I learned so much from sports, especially the values of team work, the importance of preparation, and not being afraid to fail. I believe these traits are ingrained in me every day when I go to work and have had a positive impact on my life as a whole, including parenting.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
When I’m not traveling for work, it usually starts around 4.30am. Not because I set an alarm and go to the gym or I’m working that early, but because we have a very old dog and a very active puppy. I travel about 75% of the time in my current role, so when I’m home, I do my best to help out with the family activities that are core to our daily lives. My wife recently went back to work full-time and also works for a high-growth tech company, which means she takes on all of the core family responsibilities when I travel, in addition to her full-time job. After the dogs are taken care of in the morning, I usually get some work and/or exercise in between 5am and 6:30am. By then, our daughters are up and my wife and I team up to do whatever is needed to get them out the door and on time to school in a healthy and happy mindset. Some mornings are certainly easier than others, but we try our best!
Once the kids are off to school, my office is only a couple of miles from where we live, which is a huge bonus for me when I’m not on the road. After dropping the kids at school, I’m usually at my desk by 8:15am and I typically work at the office until about 6pm. The next 2–3 hours I do my best to have family time, whether I am coaching my daughters in sports, having dinner with the family or being active outside together. I manage a national team with colleagues, clients and partners in every time zone, so once everyone is in bed, I am typically putting in another 1–2 hours of work before going to sleep between 10pm and 11pm.
When I’m traveling, the days are even longer. Lots of planes, trains and automobiles, full days of meetings, and usually working dinners at night. I am lucky to have a job where I am usually travelling to beautiful and interesting places. I try to take some time to appreciate each location when I’m there. Easier said than done, but generally the offices I’m working out of on the road are typically sports and entertainment venues, so I’m not complaining. Thankfully, technology allows for digital interaction with the family while I’m away. Not as good as being home with them, but it helps.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
As someone who has traveled on average 50% of the time for work since my kids have been born, it is not lost on me that me being gone half the time during the week could potentially have a negative impact on my children if I do not do my part to ensure it does not. I believe issues with child development can arise when parents are not properly listening and communicating with their children. Kids are smarter than we often give them credit for and can pick up on when a parent is truly invested and focused with them or not. There is so much temptation out there for children these days, especially in the digital world we live in now. Not spending proper time communicating and listening with kids, I can see how it could lead to scenarios where their development is negatively impacted and they are at higher risk of being drawn into dangerous situations as a child.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
I’ve learned so much in being a parent. Each year and age brings new challenges, learnings, and amazing experiences. Like most, I don’t remember too much before the age of 10, but what I do remember is my parents always being there for me and being surrounded by a loving family. While I do feel blessed beyond belief with my family upbringing, I certainly am like most others where I’ve had various challenges at different times in my life. During my toughest times, I’ve always felt a comfort that I could go to my parents for support. That feeling is something I work every day to instill in my children; that life is a rollercoaster, but your parents will always be here for you in good times and bad. I feel this parent-child bond is built up and earned over many years of quality time together. I communicate often with my daughters about why I travel so much for work, and why when I’m home during the week and on weekends it is so important that we spend quality time together. My wife and I make sure we block off time for just the four of us every week, so our children understand the priority of family first, and that we are always here for them no matter the circumstance.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
1. I make a conscious effort to make the most of my time with the family when I’m home during the week. My weekends are all about family and often spent playing sports with my kids, being outside together with our dogs, or cruising the river on our pontoon boat with family and friends. Being together, being active and outside, and having fun are all foundational to our family.
2. Coaching has been a huge part of my life and has had a major impact on my professional career as well, including my relationship with my kids. My dad coached many of my youth league teams. I now appreciate more than ever what he had to do to juggle his career and yet still find the time to coach my teams. Those memories still stick with me today, and I wanted my kids to have a similar experience growing up. My basketball coach was also an amazing coach and mentor growing up. He had a military background and really taught me so much about discipline, hard work, and being a team player. I knew I wanted to coach kids at a very early age, and I got into this when I was in high school and have stuck with it ever since. Now, I can honestly say that coaching my kids’ teams are some of the best moments I have ever had. I treasure every moment, even the tough losses because of the teaching moments I know they represent.
3. Both my wife and I are lucky to have both sides of our family close by. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles — we are surrounded in a very good way. We make sure that our kids realize how lucky we are to have this situation, and we often spend quality time together in large family groups. At the same time, we make sure we block time each week to ensure our core family of four are having our own time together as well.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
1. Find companies and bosses that fundamentally believe and practice ‘family first’, and understand that most of us are working this hard because we want to give our families and kids the best lives that we can. If you are able to find this, you will inevitably have more quality time with your kids as well as be more productive and happier at work. Easier said than done, but it is worth it in my opinion, even if you have to sacrifice in other areas. I have worked for companies that walk the walk when it comes to respecting family time and values. Prior employers SAS and Mastercard, and my current employer, Venuetize, would all be at the top of the list in this category, which I am very grateful for. However, I did not land at these companies by accident. I made this one of my top priorities in my job requirements every time and I am glad I did.
2. Make a list and hold yourself to it. I function best when I have a priority list and can plan ahead. When I do this effectively, it frees up more quality time for me to spend with my family.
3. Include your children in your work activities when you can. My kids are my work photographers, my wardrobe consultants, my sanity checks, my dry-run audience, and so much more. We have fun doing it, they learn, and most importantly it is more quality time together. They are also incredibly honest critics which helps keep me on my toes!
4. Include them in your work trips when schedules on both sides allow. It is a beautiful thing when you can parlay a work trip with family time.
5. Coach their teams if at all possible. This is a unique bond and shared commitment you’ll have with your kids that will last a lifetime, and for me, some of the best quality time with my kids I could ever ask for. It is not easy squeezing this into a busy work and travel schedule. I find the key is to align early with other coaches that have complementary schedules so we can all cover for each other as needed during the work week.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
I don’t like the idea of me defining what a “good parent” is. In a perfect world, all parents out there would be putting their kids’ best interests before their own and loving them unconditionally. I do not judge others when it comes to parenting. That is one of the lessons I try to teach my kids, not to judge others because you don’t know what it is truly like to walk in their shoes. I have an incredible parent-partner in my wife, we are surrounded by loving and supporting family, and yet still every day is a new challenge when it comes to parenting.
As for a story, I recently had a situation with my youngest daughter at her early morning soccer game. She was overtired and not into the game as she usually is. She was refusing to play a certain position and I was very unhappy about this as both her coach and her dad. Neither one of us handled this situation particularly well on the sideline in the heat of the moment. Once we got home, I made sure we talked about it, and rather than point all the blame at her, I said how about we both say we are sorry. We did, and then had a great conversation about what went wrong and what we can both do to avoid a similar scenario going forward. I think it’s important for children to see their parents as people just like them who also make mistakes, and when we do, we should be accountable and talk openly about it, and do our best to learn and be better next time. I’m not so sure this story fully exemplifies being a good parent, but I do feel being self-aware, accountable, and communicating in the good times and bad, are all positive attributes for parents.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Like many parents out there, I want my kids to believe they can accomplish anything in life. We often point them to so many examples around them in our family of how hard work and always trying to do the right thing has paid off. It’s a balance as a parent to teach your kids to dream big and also prepare them for life’s inevitable challenges that they will face along the path to realizing their dreams. They are also all too familiar with Dad pointing to a certain New England football player who wears #12 about how dreams can come true with hard work and perseverance!
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
I wish I was a master at this! It is a constant work in progress, and the reality is I probably fail at it just as much as I succeed. I do however try my hardest to be a good family person first and foremost, and sleep well at night because I know at my core that all of my time on the road and hard work with my job is solely to provide the best life I can for my family. I certainly don’t have this all perfectly balanced out, but I do feel I have my priorities in order at this point of my life. I’d define success at this point with 13 and 10-year-old daughters as surviving and learning every day, having a family environment where we are open and honest with each other, and love each other unconditionally.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Admittedly when I read these days it is more about professional growth, sports business and technology news, or personal fitness. While these can indirectly inspire me to be a better parent, I feel the more relevant and direct points of inspiration are the people in my life that I’m lucky enough to have had as parental mentors. It of course starts with my parents and my in-laws of who I’ve mentioned several times already. I have to also mention my wife here. She definitely inspires me to be a better parent every day. It is truly a team effort, but make no mistake about it, she is the captain of our family ship. I could not be in the position I am in professionally if I did not have her as a partner in parenting and in life.
I would also list our close friends as resources that have inspired me to be a better parent. In particular, talking to other dads that I’m close friends with, and hearing about similar challenges and being open and honest about how difficult parenting is. Finally, I’d add my professional network to this list of resources that inspire me to be a better parent. I stay in touch with many of my former bosses and colleagues and I can tell you that many months can pass sometimes and the first thing we talk about when we reconnect is our kids and families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
We have a sign hanging from the fence in our back yard that reads “Keep Calm and Smell the Roses”. I love this for a number of reasons. I try to teach my kids about the inevitable ups and downs at all stages of life, but the key is to not get too high or too low. Instead, stay in balance. At the same time, there is so much to enjoy and celebrate in life, so we need to remember to take time to soak up those special moments every chance we can. This is something that sticks with me every day, and I hope I pass this along to my kids, as I have learned this from my mom and so many others in my life. We also have a passion for the Kentucky Derby, which we celebrate with family and friends every year by throwing a big party at our house on Derby Day, so the ‘smell the roses’ has extra special meaning for us. We named our new puppy Derby if that gives you any indication!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
This may sound counter to my ‘day job’, but it really isn’t. At Venuetize, we develop technology that helps businesses make the way consumers interact with their respective properties easier, more personal, and enjoyable. It isn’t about getting the consumer to spend more time on their mobile device, but instead use mobile applications to do more in less time, freeing them up to have more social (the none digital kind!) time with family and friends. If I could inspire a movement where parents were in alignment on the best standards to monitor and control the amount of time kids spend on devices, I feel this could have a major impact on our youth. It is downright scary to me to see the impact device time is having on kids’ overall development. As parents of 13 and 10-year-old girls, this is a challenge we face every day. If there was a national standard that parents were able to align on, I feel this could have a major positive impact, and just maybe make us parents’ lives just a little bit easier!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.