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Balancing work and family, the 'CEO Dad' way

BY ANITA BRUZZESE | GANNETT NEWS SERVICE

You'd think that Tom Stern was born with it all as the son of a mogul cable television father and a grandfather who built Sears, Roebuck and Co. It would seem pretty clear that Stern would never lack for money or opportunity - success was in his genes.

But Stern wasn't quite what his father envisioned as an heir to the family power structure. Dyslexic, ADHD and a bed-wetter, the young Stern would grow up constantly seeking his father's love and approval and find himself fighting drug addiction and other impulse control problems in his life.

When he finally did become a successful CEO, it still wasn't a pretty picture. He describes his business persona as a "moneymaking machine who was pushy and loud," with a strong case of narcissism.
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Still, Stern had been born into a family "where everything was about achievement," and he made millions with his executive recruitment firm.

Then, in 2002, his wife, Lisa, was brutally attacked and robbed in a home invasion.

That stopped Stern in his tracks, and he decided to devote more time to his family. But life wasn't done with him yet; his wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. This time, Stern turned all his energies to his family - and never looked back.

Sober for 20 years and having survived the kind of personal traumas that would put a soap opera to shame, Stern is doing what has always helped him cope with his life: cracking jokes and making other people laugh.

While that may sound odd for a man who admits to still having "many dark places in his life," Stern learned at an early age to use humor to handle life's pain. He's done it again by matching his wit, his neurosis, his devotion to family and his business acumen to write, "CEO Dad: How to Avoid Getting Fired by Your Family" (Davies-Black, $19.95), a funny book with a serious message for anyone who puts a job above all else.

Some "takeaways" in his book include:

"The way you choose to organize your day is a good initial indictor of what your priorities are. And may reveal that you are a schmuck."

"After a lifetime of self-reliance, it can be scary and nerve-racking to let someone else guide you to a solution. For us CEO Dads, staring down our inadequacies can be difficult, especially since until recently we didn't think we had any."

"Sooner or later your family will no longer be able to function normally with a CEO Dad like you at the helm, and they will send out a cry for help. You need to be open to hearing it and to acting accordingly. I recommend sobbing into your hotel pillow."

Stern often describes being addicted to business success much like any other kind of addict, and says that it's the same "highs" that cause problems.

"There are times when I'm in it (business success) that I go, 'Yeah, I'm happenin',' and my chest puffs up," he said. "But then you have to decide whether you want to be a balanced person. I've learned to sacrifice the juice - I've taken a lot of the drama out of my life. Everything is a little more nuanced now. I've given up those big highs and lows. But I'm happier now than I've ever been."

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