How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time to Be Great Parents, With Craig Powell of Motus
Every kid needs their parents, and they need different parents for different things. Not being available to them or there for them has the potential to have an adverse impact on their development and their emotional state. You risk them believing that you value “things” over “experiences.”
Craig Powell is the visionary of Motus with experience leading companies to achieving market leadership within their industries. As President and CEO, Craig is responsible for the vision, strategic direction, cultivation of key relationships and tone of the winning culture at Motus.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in Missouri. My mom was a schoolteacher and my dad an optometrist. At a young age, my oldest brother fell ill with what was believed to be terminal cancer, so my middle brother and I bounced around quite a bit while my parents were at the hospital. As a kid I always had jobs and started my own businesses. (There are for sure some funny stories about my early days as an entrepreneur — selling fireworks with my middle brother was definitely one of the best times I had and businesses I helped to start.) After I completed school in Missouri, I moved to Providence and attended Brown University where I received my undergraduate degree. I started my first company at age 22.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I worked in investment banking/private equity for a bit during and after I graduated from Brown, but quickly realized that I had more of a passion for entrepreneurship and creating things. So, in 2002, I founded and launched ConnectEDU with the vision of democratizing access to critical college and career planning resources for students. I spent approximately 11 years with ConnectEDU before deciding that I was ready for a new chapter. That led me to join Motus, which at the time it was called Corporate Reimbursement Services, as president and CEO in 2013. I’ve proudly served in this role for over six years with the goal of making work life better for our clients and our team. Today, we’re doing that by providing reimbursement solutions for businesses with mobile-enabled workforces.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
No two days are the same; which I like, as I get bored with routine very quickly. I try to organize my time into three primary areas of focus — our clients/the market, our product and our team. On Mondays we have our internal meetings at Motus; we call it “meeting Monday.” Typically, the rest of the week I am out traveling to see customers, building new relationships or partnerships, attending industry events, listening and understanding what is going on in the market around us. I then spend another 1/3 of my time focused on our team at Motus, building relationships with individuals and/or groups within our organization. My remaining time is focused on our product and platform. Either exploring new organic ideas or thinking through the intersection of different partnerships and acquisitions that would provide us with a pathway to bringing more value to our customers.
As a result of our business being international, I travel a lot. However, whenever I’m not traveling my family — me, my wife and our three kids — have family dinners. During dinner time we unplug from phones and focus on spending time with one another. We have a routine of reviewing the “best part,” “worst part” and “funniest part” of our day. This helps us to learn a lot about each other’s days and always leads to follow-on discussion. Post dinner, I might be helping the kids with homework, just hanging out with them watching a game or talking through whatever is on their minds. If there’s any work I need to do, I try to get it done while the kids are doing their homework, so that afterwards we can spend time together, but it doesn’t always totally line-up.
On the weekends I coach my boys’ sports teams. We play flag football in the fall, wrestle all winter and then have lax, baseball and golf all spring and summer. We get to spend a lot of time together during these practices and games/matches. My daughter and I have our own track of activities — dance classes, country music singing lessons, going to country music concerts, talking (she’s very funny!).
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now 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?
Every kid needs their parents, and they need different parents for different things. Not being available to them or there for them has the potential to have an adverse impact on their development and their emotional state. You risk them believing that you value “things” over “experiences.” Kids need to be loved and interacted with, just as all human beings, no matter their age. But, it’s also important that they understand that the “intangibles” in life are much more important than the “tangibles.”
Also, I don’t think available necessarily means in-person or all-the-time. For example, my kids have their cell phones and we talk a lot over instant messaging and text throughout the day, whether I’m nearby or traveling. I’ve found we’re almost as much or more willing to talk via our cell phones — more vocal and more expressive. If my kids reach out, I respond quickly regardless of where I am or what may be going on.
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?
Children need their parents to love and support them as they grow. This is crucial to their development and their emotional wellbeing.
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?
I enjoy sharing one-on-one trips and experiences with my children. For example, my daughter and I will go to music concerts and take singing or dance lessons, while my boys like activities like skiing, fishing and sporting events. I’m a big believer in the individual time. To me, these moments can be even more impactful than the bigger group time we share as a family during our family dinners and trips, though that time is of course vital as well.
We also have a habit of buying a Christmas ornament each time we go on a trip or have a unique experience together. The trips provide invaluable opportunities to connect and the ornaments allow us to re-live each of those experiences every year when we decorate our tree.
I am a big believer in the importance of having one-on-one time with my kids.
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? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
I think about my day the same, regardless of whether it’s a workday or a weekend. I aim to be present wherever I am, and mindful of what’s going on. For example, I always put my phone away whenever I’m with my kids, especially if we’re talking. Being present is not only in-person, but mentally there — it’s critically important. This is another reason why I enjoy one-on-one trips and experiences with my kids. No one bothers us if we’re at a dance lesson or on a ski trip.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
There’s not one standard definition or cookie cutter for a “good parent.” Parenting is all a relational dynamic. The way I parent one of my kids is very different from how I parent the other two — they are all unique individuals and no “standard” approach would work. I believe that building a good relationship and understanding what each of your kids needs is key. Like all good relationships, being a good listener and communicator, supporting and loving them — unconditionally and establishing values and guidelines is all critical.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
My mom used to always tell my brothers and I, “play hard, take lots of risks.” When I drop my kids off in the morning or speak to them from the road, I say the same thing. I encourage my kids to challenge themselves and get outside of their comfort zone — even during our family dinner conversations where we discuss highs/lows, what’s good/bad or funny/uncomfortable. We set the tone that it is an expectation to get outside of our comfort zones and that failing or messing up is okay.
My wife and I also lead by example. We focus on pushing ourselves outside of our own comfort zones. We let our kids see us struggle with things and fight through it. We also enjoy going with the family to do things that others might consider out of the ordinary, like cliff jumping. We believe in exposing our kids to situations they aren’t consistently exposed to, as doing uncomfortable things is where growth happens. We believe that if you tell your kids that something is risky or scary, they’re more likely to have a hard time. This is why we jump off the cliffs alongside them.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
By having great relationships. When our kids were at their baby namings, the three things I always said were let them be happy, healthy and average. I’m most focused on good, healthy relationships and dynamics with my kids. I see as they get older that they’re interested in my views and feelings. I consider having a good, healthy relationship with them as success.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
“Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” by Meg Meeker, M.D. As a male, I don’t directly relate to what it’s like to be a little girl or a young woman, but understanding the importance of the relationship between fathers and daughters for the development of little girls and young women is crucial. Women need to be increasingly more empowered and on a more level playing field. It’s extremely helpful to seek strategies and find ways to connect. For example, I learned that sometimes my daughter doesn’t need to talk, she just needs me to listen. I’ve found this incredibly helpful and it’s strengthened our relationship.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” — Les Brown
This quote was why I’ve been an entrepreneur for the majority of my life. I’ve never allowed myself to be my own inhibitor to pursing something. There’s a comfort element in this quote — you may miss the moon, but go for it.
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. :-)
Gender parity. As I look at things through the eyes of my daughter or my wife, the number of places where gender bias is so innate and pervasive in the workplace and the realm of socialization is unacceptable. The more men in particular who become aware of their gender bias the better — we would all benefit if we eliminate it.