In the thirty-five years since I started APCO Worldwide, we’ve become the largest women-owned communications firm in the world, with more than 800 employees worldwide. As a global advisory and advocacy communications consultancy, APCO, specializes in public affairs, communication and business consulting for leading public and private sector organizations around the world. Throughout the years my approach has been to fuse the best local experience with a global perspective, resulting in an international agency with a unique culture based on seamless teamwork.
Over the years I’ve also found that building a business required many of the skills I learned to rely on while raising my children: empathy, courage, and inspiriting different perspectives to get along. As a working mother, and now grandmother of nine, balancing work and family has never been an easy task. The solution for me was blending the two—work-life integration. In many ways, my professional success has been a function of a supportive and engaged family, and my ability to be fully engaged with my family has been a function of a fulfilled professional career. It hasn’t always been easy, but this convergence of work and personal life has worked for me.
My day to day is very hectic and no two days are ever the same. I spend time helping to build my company’s brand, work closely with key clients, secure new business and work with the management team to advance our performance and provide a strategic direction for the future—all while being committed to making sure I show up vibrantly to those who matter most from helping with assignments, making favourite recipes, and planning the next family getaway.
My professional responsibilities require being on the road and travelling internationally often. As a result, people ask me how I handle jet lag and adjust to time zones. It’s simple: I’ve learned to live in my own time zone. In client services, you eat and sleep when you can, and get done what needs to be done. That’s why work-life integration is so important: it keeps everything fluid and flexible across the board. This schedule, on most days, starts at 5:30 am and ends at some times as late as 10 pm or 11 pm.
To try and manage it all, I plan my calendar in two ways. First, I track the annual and recurring commitments I have (such as conferences, family holidays etc.) to make sure the time is held at least a year out, and these serve as the grounding blocks in my schedule. Then, I start to build out other obligations that don’t have set dates, depending on when I may be in a certain city, or near a person I need to spend time with. I also keep a list of people I want to see in different locations. For example, if I know I’ll be in London for a meeting, I can quickly decide who to grab dinner or lunch with while I’m there. The second way, and most important, is to give myself the latitude to be flexible. All the planning in the world can’t account for an urgent client need, cancelled flight, or last-minute celebration you wouldn’t want to miss. In these cases, the best you can do is be honest when adjusting the commitment you had and reschedule as soon as possible.
For what it’s worth, my advice is two-fold: be in the present and One thing I learned early on was to be in the present and have a really secure spouse. My model of work-life integration doesn’t allow me to carry all my work home and all my problems to work. Throughout it all, my husband and I must be in agreement on how everything was going to work. It took a while for us to adjust, but we agreed it was a partnership that all of us—kids included—would participate in, pitching in. This made all the difference in the world. We had to divide and conquer. The kids learned how to put dinner on the table, look after siblings, and help with the many things that are time-consuming. This allowed me to not only regain some time in the schedule but also teach my kids important skills and responsibilities.
In both motherhood and work, I learned a lot from my early experiences. I learned the importance of being able to multitask, use time efficiently, and the valuable lesson of sharing difficulties and joys with those at home who supported me.
Most of all, I learned that where there’s a will, there’s away, and that’s why we really can have it all.
Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide, a global consulting firm headquartered in Washington, DC, specializes in public affairs, communication, and business consulting for major multinationals. She is the author of numerous articles in the fields of public affairs management and corporate reputation; has been a guest lecturer throughout the world; and has received many prestigious awards. Kraus serves as a trustee of American University and sits on the advisory board of the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, is the Chair of Women’s Presidents Organization, and has served on the boards of various industry, professional associations, and corporations. She has been married to her husband, Steve, for more than fifty years, is a mother of three, and has nine grandchildren.