“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” with Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Ben Smith

I think any parent who keeps their child alive, nurtures them and gives them a sense of self confidence is amazing. But some of my favorite parents tend to encourage their child to explore their interests. I love to meet my kids friends who have amazing musical, dance, or art skills. Getting to know these […]

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I think any parent who keeps their child alive, nurtures them and gives them a sense of self confidence is amazing. But some of my favorite parents tend to encourage their child to explore their interests. I love to meet my kids friends who have amazing musical, dance, or art skills. Getting to know these parents and seeing how supportive they are in letting their kids excel to the point of mastering a skill is a huge time and energy commitment. But many will do it because that is the passion of their child. To me that is good parenting.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interviewBen Smith, CEO of Xcellerate Biomedical Technologies.

Take liberal doses of natural curiosity and imagination, mix them with a unique skill set, global vision, and the drive to succeed, and you’ll get Ben Smith. Ben’s passion for building and scaling businesses trace back to age seven when he decided to transform his lemonade stand into a golf-cart mounted mobile marketing platform, selling out of drinks daily at the local park. His father’s work at IBM spurred a lifelong love for technology and how it can change the prospects of companies, large and small. When he wasn’t running through the halls of IBM asking questions, observing, and learning about technology, he was teaching himself programming on his at-home AS400. Ben’s first IT business consulting started in high school was so successful that he continued, paying his way through college by flexing his growing IT muscles for local companies.

Ben learned early in life that listening and making strategic connections were the keys to innovating. His considerable early IT experience, education, and innate ability to connect with the right people launched a 15-year career in operations management in a variety of sectors within the global IT space. During this phase, Ben took on the C-suite roles, specializing in optimizing corporate structures, overseeing complex mergers, acquisitions, and integrations, and developing high-performing teams. The result was leading IT initiatives for global brands such as Mayo Clinic, American Airlines, and General Motors. Curiosity about the possibilities that lay in combining his unique skill set with marketing disciplines spurred a career move that would prove to be a masterstroke. Focusing on e-commerce development, social media engagement, digital advertising (SEM), as well as organic (SEO), Ben’s work with Phoenix-based Lavidge, an advertising agency, helped propel companies such as LifeLock and Massage Envy from startup ventures to market leadership. Ever the risk-taker, today, Ben’s curiosity and dedication to connecting the dots have placed him at the helm of biotech startup Xcellerate BioMedical Technologies, the parent company of BioXskincare. In partnership with companies such as Beacon Biomedical and CBD Sciences. Ben and his seasoned team are leveraging and supporting the work of research scientists to create solid operating organizations and build world class brands that focus on M&A opportunities. Ben’s core focus? Turning research into revenue. Investors take note.

Thank you so much for joining us Ben! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

Iwas the son of an IBM exec and we joked it stood for I’ve Been Moved. So, I grew up moving all over the country. East Coast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest. But in all those places I went into work with my dad to every kind of office, factory, warehouse, etc. I was exposed to every vertical and all kinds of automation. I had a mini computer in the basement and a green screen terminal in my room!

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

Due to this exposure early on, I was never afraid to cross industries or take something from one area and use it in another. This has played a huge part in my ability to automate and operate in just about any environment.

In my current role, I pull from that experience to help grow and expand our portfolio companies, both in house and that we take a stake in.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

I drop my daughter at school and hit the day with a conference call immediately after with a partner in Costa Rica every morning while driving in to work. I have several offices (one in our biotech incubator, one in our design and production facility, and one in our manufacturing facility) which I bounce in between. My day is literally run down to 15 minute increments and all on a digital calendar everyone has access to. An average day is at least 6 meetings in person and countless conference calls.

I do make sure to pre-block all kid activities so I can be present for sports, plays, science fair, etc. But I will admit I do book calls on the drive times to those events…

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?

As a child the one thing I always felt was that my parents, each in their own way, made sure I had a solid connection, and I knew I mattered. That is what I try to do for my kids. I meet so many young workers who come to me for advice and they do not have self confidence, they lack a strong sense of their value or place in the world. Often it is lack of parental support and that they feel they lack skills. I want my kids to feel that they can literally do anything.

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 see the difference when I am launching a new project and my work day has me traveling or stretched late every night, the dynamic changes. I go back to work dad not just dad. Our bonding level is decreased, not that we love each other any less, but that simple lack of attention leads to less connection, and I always try to quickly counter that.

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 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I would agree with the concept of that study. With my oldest son, he is a wrestler and also has aspergers, so he was always working out and not the most social of my kids. But our bonding time was often best suited one on one in the car driving and sharing stories back and forth about life. Using that time and the quiet of the car allowed him to focus without distraction and for me to shape a story of my childhood into a life lesson but mixed in something more entertaining. This type of interaction was lot of our “quality time” since he had wrestling practice often three times a day.

With my middle son, and all my kids, I used to do bedtime stories every night, and even try to call them in on the road. I made up characters and each night they had an adventure. But those adventures all had a moral, a current issue or an aspirational goal I was trying to get across. They were still very entertaining of course or I would lose my audience! Through these stories I gave my son Josh a belief he was capable of anything and able to get any role or job he wanted. The kid started working at 14, bought his first car before he had his permit and now has four jobs in his senior year of high school. He is also in show choir and has a huge social circle all over town. He embodies the characters sense of adventure daily.

With my daughter, she was the girl that thought girl scouts was boring because her brothers were boy scouts who camped in tents and played with machetes, and her troops wanted cabins and made crafts. So growing up, we avoided treating her different, she had her own machete, she breathes fire with me, and is decent with a bb gun and throwing knives. But she also helps install electrical wiring, build our house upgrades and I try to teach her all kinds of areas she thought she could not do. Those little moments about learning about circuit breakers and how to reset or blowing fire, have given her great confidence in herself and no one can take that away.

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.

When I am really busy and unable to stop working I will often pull my kids into the project. This at least lets them feel I am not ignoring them and that they too can help us “earn a living.” Often when they were little and I was working away and noticed they needed attention I would share a text or email question, give them a little background and then ask, “How would you respond to this person, giving them a few options.” As they grew older, I would notice my middle son often read over my shoulder as I was working away and then started giving advice and helping without even soliciting him.

I live on my cell. I am connected to work 24/7 in many cases with projects often around the world. I know many parents limit their kids access on cell and internet. We took an opposite approach. They had pretty unlimited access and they always had new tech. My wife and I agreed it had risks, but it also gave us the ability to talk to them and share teaching moments early on about how to not let it consume your life, how it can be a tool, but also how to schedule, communicate and be connected as technology evolves and life gets more fast paced.

When we do a full family vacation we try to go somewhere more disconnected and often tropical. These vacations are a time to do activities not online, not on phones and have family dinners, fun outings and lots of energetic activities. I personally try to make sure during these vacations I am offline, or at least only online during non-family time (like after they all go to bed).

Another fun thing I had as a kid I try to do with my kids is to take them to work. Once a child sees what you do and as you explain WHY you do it, they begin to learn the importance of a job. I find that makes it easier to understand why my dad was at work and traveling a lot when I was a kid. It took away the resentment and made me feel more a part of it. I hope that was also instilled in my kids from an early age.

The last thing we focused on this year as our kids got older was creating more spaces in our house that were non-web based. We recently added hammocks and fire pits in the back yard and now once a week we do s’mores. We may not all be able to go camping as much as when they were little but we create places and time to even do little highlights from their youth outings that bring us all together and relive those childhood favorites. Keeping the kid alive is key.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

I think any parent who keeps their child alive, nurtures them and gives them a sense of self confidence is amazing. But some of my favorite parents tend to encourage their child to explore their interests. I love to meet my kids friends who have amazing musical, dance, or art skills. Getting to know these parents and seeing how supportive they are in letting their kids excel to the point of mastering a skill is a huge time and energy commitment. But many will do it because that is the passion of their child. To me that is good parenting.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

With all my kids, I try to demonstrate that anything is possible. I have changed complete careers many times in their lives. I now run several companies across several industries. I bring them to work, I share the failures, and I talk to them for advice on “What would you do in this situation.” This level of connection makes them feel invested in my future, but also shows them their opinions can change the course of action. That has been my guiding force from my childhood and I hope instills in them.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

For me success is getting though life as a family, caring for them, nurturing them, spending quality time, and making sure the words, “I love you.” actually have meaning and go both ways. Whether we are rich or poor, whether I am starting a new venture and risking it business wise or we’re stable in our life, is really irrelevant in family success. The fact that we all like each other, have a place to live and a social circle that supports us, those are the real values in life.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

So I am the rare exception that does not read or listen to authors and speakers. Instead I tend to listen to those I meet and ask lots of questions. I love to learn what others do, how they succeed and what did not work. I absorb all I can and try to apply to my life and my family. To me this form of synthesis has been successful in how I retain and use information. Knowing someone I know personally did something that worked makes me more likely to actually try it out.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Oliver Wendall Holmes said, “We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing!” This is my favorite lesson and one that defines me and my relationship with my kids. I act often like a big kid. We do goofy things, play with pyrotechnics, we try things like trampoline dodgeball together, and we laugh and act just like we all did when we were little. I hope we NEVER lose this in our lives, no matter how serious the rest of life may be.

For us that equates to being the house all their friends want to spend time at. There is always something fun and crazy to see or do. For my wife and I, it is great to have the kids all want to come here. We meet their friends, we get to see our kids interact and grow up together, and we are connected to all parts of their lives. This brings great joy, and playing with them keeps us grounded and relevant in their lives.

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. 🙂

If people want to connect, be happy and enjoy their life, hit the pause button — stop work for a bit, stop being “your age” and worrying if you look silly. Being silly is the key. Having fun, trying new things and enking your inner child will keep your kids and those around you from being to serious and stoic. Life is meant to be lived, and no one lives better than an inner child.

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