MongoDB’s CEO Puts a Face on Work-Life Balance

Delayed Flight

Sometimes it takes a moment of drama to push people to a decision point. That, apparently, is what happened to Max Schireson, the CEO of database star MongoDB. Like a lot of tech executives, Schireson faced a grueling travel schedule, flying between his home in California and the company’s New York headquarters, as well as visiting customers and attending conferences. Then one day he woke up on a plane to discover his flight had made an emergency landing for an incident so traumatic some crew members had to be replaced. He’d slept through the whole thing.

On Tuesday, Schireson stepped down from the CEO’s job, publishing a blog post that laid out his reasoning in forthright detail. (He’ll remain at the company as vice chairman.) “The future is bright and MongoDB deserves a leader who can be ‘all-in’ and make the most of the opportunity,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, I cannot be that leader given the geography of the majority of the company in New York and my family in California.”

Money aside, Schireson’s move could have longer term consequences, as he readily acknowledges: He may be disqualifying himself from future CEO positions or other opportunities. But, he says, “life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have a meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so.”

The story’s gotten a fair amount of attention in the technology and business media over the last few days, and it’s hard not to wonder how it would have played if Schireson had been a woman. He himself notes that he’s seen many instances of women CEOs being asked how they balance the demands of their job with the needs of their family, though no one’s ever asked him. “As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.” Instead, that was a question he asked himself—and now has answered.

Dev Ittycheria, who co-founded BladeLogic and is now with the venture firm OpenView Partners, will replace Schireson as CEO.

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