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Nov 10

The CEO Whisperer

Stephen Miles is a CEO coach. He works with CEOs of very large multinationals, such as Marius Kloppers (BHP), interviewing them rigorously and providing them feedback and leadership advice:

Miles may not enjoy such biographical scrutiny, but it is the method he uses with his CEO clients. "Our first encounter was three hours," says New York Life CEO Theodore Mathas, "and I think we got up to when I was in the seventh grade. He asked questions like ‘Did you get your homework done?’ and ‘Did you spend more time with your mom or your dad?’ It was a little unusual." Miles says his goal is to understand what shaped the executives as human beings. "I care less about what they think than what they have done." Says Mathas: "He made me feel comfortable, but it was clear he wasn’t there to be my friend."

A side effect of his job is that he travels a lot.

Miles seems to live for his clients, even those he sees in person only once a quarter, with phone and e-mail contact in between. "He has this capacity to stay in touch and be available, wherever he is in the world," says Foster’s Crawford. "I just hope he doesn’t get overworked."

It’s a reasonable concern. Technically, Miles lives in Atlanta with his wife, Kelly, whom he met while in college. She started her career as a case-management officer at Kingston’s Prison for Women and now works as an associate principal in Heidrick’s leadership-consulting practice. They don’t see each other very much, however. In the tradition of the famously mobile management guru Ram Charan, who for years had no fixed address, Miles spends almost all of his time on the road, half outside the U.S. He has earned top-tier status from three separate frequent-flyer programs. (Even the jet-setting corporate downsizer George Clooney played in Up in the Air can’t match that.) To sustain their marriage, it helps that the Mileses have no children and Kelly endorses her husband’s travel needs. "We build in long weekends," he says.

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