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Pastimes help Long Island bosses cope with pressures

Lon Dolber, CEO of American Portfolios Holdings Inc., and a bass guitarist and manager of That Motown Band, spoke on July 15, 2017 about using music as a way to escape the pressures of running a company.  (Credit: Randee Daddona)

Long Island bosses sit on the hot seat. Some face quarterly earnings scrutiny, others private-equity owners’ watchful eyes; all shoulder the responsibilities of leadership.

So, how to cope with the pressures?

The chief executive of Henry Schein Inc., Long Island’s largest publicly traded company by revenue and market capitalization, is an avid stamp collector.

The founder of a Plainview technology vendor to local government sings Bollywood karaoke at gatherings of family and friends.

The founder of an accounting firm took up rock and ice climbing.

Then there’s a drone pilot, a bass player in a Motown band, and a marathoner.

Janet Lenaghan, professor of management at Hofstra University’s business school and an expert in human resources, cited research indicating that company leaders’ hobbies and interests could have an effect on their businesses.

Pastimes with defined objectives can give leaders a feeling of accomplishment and help them transfer a “motivational culture” to their organizations.

Other research found that executives who pursue risky hobbies like skydiving tend to push the envelope at work, creating an innovative culture in their organizations and notching a higher success rate in acquisitions, she said.

“It’s less about risk and more about reward,” she said.

Executives interviewed about their hobbies said their outside pursuits alter their perspectives and make them better equipped to solve the riddles of the business world.


Ken Cerini riding peak) Kenneth Cerini, managing partner,
Photo Credit: Ken Cerini

When Ken Cerini left accounting giant Ernst & Young (now known as EY) in 1993 to start Cerini & Associates LLP, a Bohemia accounting firm, he began working 60-hour weeks and took on a Newsday delivery route to make ends meet. “I threw myself into the practice,” he said of the business that has grown to almost 50 people. “I admit I’m a workaholic.”

Cerini, now 52, started scaling indoor rock walls about 10 years ago, and he found that the sport transported him from the workaday world.

“Climbing gave me something where I couldn’t think about work because I had to think . . . about the next handhold.”

Hiking, mountaineering and ice climbing followed.

Kenneth Cerini, managing partner, Cerini & Associates, LLP,
Photo Credit: Ken Cerini

Cerini said he likes “technical” challenges like Mount Kenya in Africa and Mount Fay in Canada that require a combination of skills such as ice climbing, rock climbing and traversing — going sideways on an exposed ridge or rock wall.

Cerini describes his mountaineering as “type three fun.” In the world of extreme sports, type one fun is fun while you’re doing it; type two is no fun while you’re doing it, but rewarding in retrospect. And in type 3 fun, “you’re getting your ass kicked. You think you’re going to die. [But] the story gets better every time you tell it,” he said.

One such time came about five years ago at the rock-climbing mecca of the Shawangunk Mountains (known as “the Gunks”) upstate, Cerini said he misread the rock wall, lost his grip on the wall, swung about 30 feet on a rope he was harnessed to and slammed into a tree.

“I learned two lessons: Trees hurt, and the wall is speaking to you.”

Cerini said reading the rock wall parallels judgments he has to make at work. “Situations are speaking to you. Clients are speaking to you.”

Bollywood singer

Raj Mehta, CEO of Infosys, sings a Bollywood
Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Raj Mehta’s hobby predates his business career.

The founder, chairman and CEO of Infosys International, a Plainview information technology provider, has been singing since he was a boy in western India. His first performance at the age of 10 came in front of about 400 people attending a celebration to honor teachers in the town hall of Bhavnagar, Gujarat.

Mehta, now 62, never stopped.

“I’m not a shy person,” he said. “I like to put a smile on people’s faces.”

When he is at a gathering of friends or relatives and there is a karaoke machine nearby, Mehta will sing songs from “Bollywood” movies, a Hindi genre that combines music, dance, humor and romance.

Raj Mehta, CEO of Infosys, sings a Bollywood
Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A lyric from one song Mehta sings: “I’m not a poet, but when I saw you, I started writing poetry.”

Clients of closely held Infosys have included the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Con Edison and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“Singing makes me think positive,” Mehta said. “It makes me calm, it gives me energy. Whenever I’m free, I sing.”

Love of the Links

Adrienne Giannone, president and CEO of Edge Electronics,
Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Adrienne Giannone, president and chief executive of Edge Electronics Inc., took up golf about two years after she co-founded the Bohemia distributor of electronic components in 1990. She soon became “passionate” about the game.

“I found out it was a stress reliever,” she said. “I could go out for four hours and think about hitting that little white ball and getting it in the hole.”

On Tuesday, Edge Electronics sponsored its 13th annual charity golf outing to benefit breast cancer research. The events have raised a total of about $300,000, she said.

Giannone finds golf to be a valuable business tool.

Adrienne Giannone, president and CEO of Edge Electronics,
Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

“You can get a lot of deals done on the golf course,” she said. “It’s usually larger deals. It allows you to personalize relationships with your customers and offer them perks.” She recalled closing a $3 million deal a few years ago while playing golf in Texas.

Giannone said more women are taking up the sport, but when she goes on a business golf outing, “I’m always a minority.”

One thing Giannone refuses to do is throw a match in the hope of increasing the chance of clinching a deal. Throwing matches is a common enough tactic that a 2013 story in GolfDigest offered advice on doing it discreetly (One tip: “Don’t wait until the last minute to tank.”).

“I don’t play customer golf,” she said flatly. “I like to have fun.”

Pulling the Trigger

Attorney Wei Gu, 38, who lives in Albertson, assists new immigrants through his law office in Flushing, Queens, and provides pro bono legal services as a Mandarin interpreter through the Nassau County Bar Association.

A lot is on the line when Gu pleads his cases.

“I go to court when people are facing deportation,” he said. “I have a lot of pressure.”

Gu’s escape is to take a pistol to a shooting range in Freeport or Westhampton, where his 10-member team competes in steel-plate shooting competitions where scoring is based on speed and accuracy.

The solo practitioner said he enjoys the camaraderie and the change of pace.

“For me it’s a way of balancing my extreme concentration at work,” he said. “My hobby gives me a sense that every day is not the same.”

Mile after Mile

Vitamin Word chief executive Michael Madden at the
Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Michael Madden, chief executive of Vitamin World, a Holbrook-based retail chain with 334 stores, has a marathon commute on weekends from Long Island MacArthur Airport to his home in Windermere, Florida, a suburb of Orlando.

Madden, who said he is in his 60s, also runs marathons, in Florida and Illinois — most recently the Chicago Marathon in 2014. He is considering training for another despite a balky right knee. He usually runs about 25 miles a week but would elevate to about 60 miles a week if he decides to train for a marathon.

Madden, who became CEO in May 2016 after Manhattan private equity firm Centre Lane Partners LLC bought the company from Ronkonkoma-based Nature’s Bounty for about $25 million, said running relieves stress and enhances concentration.

“It gives me the ability to think more clearly,” he said. “It’s almost like yoga or meditation. I think it makes me a better executive.”

Mike Madden, chief executive of Vitamin World, with
Photo Credit: Madden family

Michael Madden, chief executive of Vitamin World, with wife, Elizabeth, at Chicago Marathon in 2014. Madden, who became CEO in May 2016, said running relieves stress and enhances concentration.

Eye in the sky

Using a remote controlled drone, Ed Eisenstein, founder
Photo Credit: Ed Eisenstein

Ed Eisenstein, 43, the founder of Farmingdale-based IT services provider United Network Associates Inc., recalls having “flight dreams” as a child. So when the makers of drones began “to perfect their product” in 2013, he jumped.

Eisenstein said he paid about $2,600 for a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus with accessories. He flew it over Eisenhower Park; he flew it almost to the South Shore. “I had something that could take my eyes above the clouds.”

He also has used drones while hiking. “Once you can see yourself from a half mile above, you can almost not hike without it,” he said.

In the early days, drone pilots were effectively free to fly them nearly anywhere because the Federal Aviation Administration had yet to formulate rules, he said. That began changing in 2014 and 2015.

Ed Eisenstein, the founder of Farmingdale-based IT services
Photo Credit: United Network Associates Inc

Eisenstein said government flight limitations “began to take the fun out of it.”

These days, Eisenstein, who also serves as commissioner of information technology for Nassau County, flies for recreation every couple of weeks in parks. In his role with the county, he also works with drones to monitor construction sites such as the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Wantagh.

Ed Eisenstein, the founder of Farmingdale-based IT services
Photo Credit: United Network Associates Inc.

“I find flying drones freeing,” said Eisenstein, an avid musician who wrote and recorded two instrumental songs, “Alien Face” and “Purple Guitar,” inspired by drone flight.

More than just postage

Henry Schein CEO, Stanley Bergman with his stamp
Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Stanley M. Bergman has been chairman and chief executive of Melville-based Henry Schein Inc. since 1989. His interest in stamp collecting goes back much longer.

He first became interested at age 8, influenced by his father, who had a passion for geography and history. Bergman said he considers stamps “miniature works of art.”

“I learned at an early age that stamp collecting offers a gateway to the world,” Bergman, 67, said in a statement. “Each stamp has a story . . . I was learning about geography, world events and important historical figures.”

He credits stamp collecting with instilling an interest in international business, a hallmark of Bergman’s tenure at Henry Schein, which has operations or affiliates in 32 countries.

Henry Schein CEO, Stanley Bergman with his stamp
Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

“As a global company, it’s important to be well-versed in the languages and currencies as well as the historical figures and events that have shaped the countries in which we operate,” he said.

Beyond a global outlook, Bergman said, there are strong parallels between the business skills and those required in stamp collecting.

“In business we observe what’s going on around us and assimilate the data to develop a world view from which to operate,” he said. “Curating a stamp collection is no different. It takes patience, persistence and a sustained focus on the end goal.”

The Sound of Music

Lon Dolber, CEO of American Portfolios, an independent
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Lon Dolber, founder and chief executive of American Portfolios Holdings Inc., a Holbrook brokerage, played bass guitar in a Chicago tribute band through his teens, but stopped cold when he was about 19.

About 10 years ago, he picked up a $75 bass “on a lark” and formed a band called The Filthy Crickets. Eventually he left the Crickets and three years ago helped form That Motown Band, an eight-person group that covers songs by Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Four Tops and others.

"That Motown Band"perform at Strong's Water Club in
Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

This summer they have been playing East End clubs, private events and the Patchogue Theatre.

Dolber, 61 said his musical life provides an alternate identity.

“I never describe myself as a CEO,” he said. “I’m a pretty basic guy . . . My wife sees me more as a bass player in a rock ‘n’ roll band. Her vision of me is: I’m cooler as a bass player than as a CEO.”

The music also provides a release.

“It’s therapeutic,” he said. “The securities business is a hard business. I’m not thinking about the SEC, FINRA, Donald Trump. When I go and play, I’m not thinking about any of that.”

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