At home, a lot of it will probably be about being present with your children as they grow, challenging them to go far and wide. And understanding that the education system cannot do everything — parents have a role in the education of their children. Lastly, we cannot forget that childhood is supposed to be fun, so chillax and try not to be overly dramatic about it.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Roee Adler. Roee is a longtime team member at WeWork, joining as Chief Product Officer in 2013. Over the years, Roee built WeWork’s product management, software engineering, digital design, and data analysis groups. He is now spearheading WeWork Labs, the company’s program to power early-stage startups and corporate innovation.
Prior to joining WeWork, Roee was part of five different startups, three of which were successfully acquired. Most recently, he served as the Chief Product Officer at Soluto and led the team’s launch at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2010 (where Soluto won the startup battlefield). Soluto was acquired by Asurion in 2013. Prior to that, Roee was a product manager at AeroScout (acquired by Stanley Black & Decker), and a device driver developer at Envara (acquired by Intel).
A native of Israel, Roee started programming at age 11. He spent his compulsory military service in the Israeli Defence Force starting as a software engineer with an elite intelligence R&D unit, then as a team leader and finally as one of the project managers of a system that won the Israel Defence Award, Israel’s most prestigious R&D award, granted by the country’s president.
Roee is married to Avital, a neuroscientist at NYU Langone Medical Center, and has three children: Gali, Maayan, and Ron. He holds a BA in Computer Science (summa cum laude) and an MBA in Finance from IDC Herzliya. He is a former Judoka, thinks Battlestar Galactica is the best TV show ever made, loves cinema, and dreams of becoming either an evolutionary biologist or a film director.
Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I was born in Netanya, a midsize city in Israel, to parents who were high school sweethearts and are still happily married today. My mother’s father had a small carpentry business and my father started working for him in what became a family business centered around craftsmanship, wood, and creating experiences. Netanya is a beach town that is obsessed with soccer. As a child I found myself drawn to surfing and the Mediterranean sea. I connected much less to soccer and more to Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy books and started picking up computer programming as a child, which wasn’t a very popular thing at the time. In retrospect, the nerds prevailed, but I also became a late-blooming die-hard soccer fan. Go Maccabi Netanya!!
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
By the time I was about to go into the compulsory military service in Israel, I had many years of experience writing software, so I was recruited into a technology research and development unit where I spent five years working on major projects and having the opportunity to be put in leadership positions that would have happened at a much later age in any other setting. And so by the time I finished my military service at 23 years of age when it was time to start my bachelor’s degree (which I did in parallel to building my first startup), I already had quite a bit of experience managing and building complex technology teams. I then started on a path that’s very common in the Israeli ecosystem, which is to work on a string of startups. Three of them were successfully acquired and two were miserable failures. Along the way, I met my wife, who is a neuroscientist, and six years ago when she finished her Ph.D. in neural computation, we relocated to New York City for her career with our two daughters at the time.
A set of interesting events happened that brought me to join WeWork as one of the first employees. When we moved to the United States, I was with a startup called Soluto as the chief product officer. Soluto was a fairly high profile startup because we won TechCrunch Disrupt, and soon after my wife and I moved the US we were approached to be acquired. In parallel, I was looking for a place to work in New York and needed a desk. A close friend of mine, Eden Schochat, introduced me to Adam Neumann (Co-Founder and CEO of WeWork). I walked into what I thought was a sales pitch to get a desk in the WeWork community, but it turned out to be a job interview. I joined the company a few months later.
Coming from a background of engineering and having a lot of experience in entrepreneurship is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are many roads you can take and you can be a jack of all trades in a growing company. On the other hand, you may constantly be moved from a place where you started stabilizing to the next area in the company that needs the most “zero to one” kind of activity. I ended up playing multiple roles at WeWork and moving as needed, but always with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and technology.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
As an entrepreneur operating inside a fast-growing company, there’s a constant tension between management and bringing stability and sanity into the more established areas of the business versus constantly challenging the present, being inventive, and thinking far into the future. Every day is almost like a battle between a calendar full of meetings that are there to remove bottlenecks for different team members, and time for myself to sit and think about the new and the unexpected. My wife and I have 3 children (two daughters, 8yo and 6.5yo, and a boy, 1.5yo) and 2 demanding jobs. Our daughters are at a stage where homework is becoming an important aspect of their lives, and it’s important for us to be there with them and support the out-of-the-classroom learning experience. To that end, we try for one of us to there home every afternoon, and we split those days among the two of us, trying to plan as much in advance as possible but also supporting each other when plans change.
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?
My wife and I work hard. And when I think about why I always come back to our children. I know that not everyone shares the same sentiment, and it’s not that my wife and I do not enjoy things together and having fun, but I feel very strongly that my main purpose for existence is growing a strong, happy, and impactful next generation. So for me, not spending time with my children as they grow up defeats the purpose of my existence. More concretely, the most joyous time that I have is being there when my children learn something new, especially if I can convince myself that I had a small part in them learning it. When they’re young, sometimes all they want is to spend time with you and it feels like it’s never enough, but to me every ounce of time spent with them in a very focused and present way is magical. I hear that feeling may change when my children hit their mid-teens but I’m just ignoring it for now.
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 some stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
I’ll start by admitting that in the environment I work in, it’s very difficult to disconnect for long periods of time from email, text, Slack, WeChat, Whatsapp, etc. I try and I sometimes succeed in putting my phone aside during certain hours of the weekend, when I can spend time with the kids reading to them, playing games with them, playing pretend or just being silly. One of the defining aspects of our generation as parents is shutting out the addiction to technology and the phone in our hands. And maybe I’ll use this stage to call out to all innovators — we need your help in creating sustainable measures that allow us to limit our usage of our plethora of devices. I’m not trying to dodge personal responsibility for this. I’m merely admitting it is very difficult and we need help.
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?
I’ll start by saying that I think the solution differs between ages and the situations of each family. For me, it’s often the early morning hours and the homework time that can be spent together as well as the weekend. And I make a point of participating in every event that is important for my daughters. (Before I moved to the U.S. I had no idea how many plays, performances, choir concerts and other kinds of stage events could happen in the life of a grade schooler.) My hit rate isn’t 100 percent but it’s not far off.
One simple technique that my wife and I use to be present with our children and share the parenting workload is to split the evenings/afternoons. Two or three days a week I leave work early, head home, and spend time with the children. And on the other days, she does the same. At different periods in a child’s life, there are different things that you need to be present as a parent. Right now for our daughters, being there for homework time is important because they have homework every day, and we are trying to make homework an empowering and growing experience for them.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
One of the things I learned when I was about to become a parent for the first time, and being the nerd that I am read way too many books about it, is that one should never use the term “good boy.” The reason is that using the term “good boy” implies that there are bad boys, and there aren’t. There’s a body of belief that asserts that all boys and girls are born good and that they are the products of their environment and how they’re being raised. (I’m not referring to Skeletor-grade evil here.) In the same vein, I don’t think I or anyone else can say what being a “good parent” is. It’s highly dependent on the context, the culture, and the specific situation. I do think that there are universal truths about behaviors no parents should engage in and that generally speaking, spending more time with your children and being present is better than spending less time with your children. But where those lines cross is something that we have to leave to parents.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
Luckily with a scientist mother and an engineer/entrepreneur father, our daughters get quite a lot of exposure to aiming high, being creative, and tenaciously striving towards impactful outcomes. But there are a few things that we always try to do with them, like using questions, creating space for them to explore and invent, and encouraging them to immerse themselves inside stories and tales. (More books, less TV.) We constantly read to them at a narrative level that may result in questions to which we could answer, well, what do you think? My Little Pony has surprisingly complex villains and Dog Man is actually hilariously funny for me as well.
I myself am a big cinema and TV buff and so while I have my generation’s paranoia of our children becoming addicted to screens, I do try to intentionally expose them to powerful stories that will hopefully inspire them and spark wonder. For example, I really wanted them to be exposed to Avatar: The Last Airbender. (I’m referring to the best TV show ever made, not the so-so movie.) I felt, especially for my daughters, that it was presenting a very balanced girl power versus boy power narrative. I was also successful in introducing Harry Potter, even though it was a serious battle because they thought it was going to be boring. I’ve completely failed in exposing them to Star Wars but I’m not giving up just yet.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
I think this is another tragedy of our generation. I don’t think anyone has a solid all-encompassing answer to this question, definitely not me, but I’ll humbly share my two cents. I think defining success at work is in itself a world-class problem and defining success at home is in itself a world-class problem. Neither of those has a very good solution just yet and trying to compound the two may not be a fertile effort. But there are a few things that will probably be included in whatever solution those professors researching the topic will come up with. On the work side, having clarity around objectives and being able to describe a future that would be agreed upon as successful if it is achieved, is likely an important ingredient. Building teams where employees are happy to come to work is probably an important ingredient. And constantly measuring your impact on the world, the environment, and the human condition is probably an important ingredient. At home, a lot of it will probably be about being present with your children as they grow, challenging them to go far and wide. And understanding that the education system cannot do everything — parents have a role in the education of their children. Lastly, we cannot forget that childhood is supposed to be fun, so chillax and try not to be overly dramatic about it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Being a parent and having a high achieving career puts us at a place of impossible choices and constant compromise. My advice is to not think about it too dramatically and try to get what you can on either side of the equation. Attempting to build a rigid structure that creates “balance” may end up in no balance at all, with form over substance. Our children and our jobs are dynamic and one thing may work today but a completely different thing may work in three months. So care about both, try to spend time on both, be present in both, and remember that as long as you’re aware and you act in both directions, you’re probably on the right path..
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think teachers may be the most important people in the world. And in so many ways, the world does not behave as such. This is a tough one and there aren’t easy solutions, but any structure that will incentive smart and strong people to become teachers and stay teachers can have a global level impact. That and if all of us could airbend 😉 …
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the Author:
Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.
An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.
Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.
When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.