These CEOs Have Some Unexpected Hobbies: Stickers, Anyone? Corporate Bosses Unwind by Designing Fireworks, Playing With Toy Trains and Crafting Hunting Knives

These CEOs Have Some Unexpected Hobbies: Stickers, Anyone?

Corporate Bosses Unwind by Designing Fireworks, Playing With Toy Trains and Crafting Hunting Knives


June 12, 2014 10:30 p.m. ET

On average, American chief executives work more than 50 hours a week, according to a recent study co-led by Harvard Business School. For the rest of the time, they have hobbies.

Larry Ellison, the billionaire leader of Oracle Corp. ORCL -1.32% , races yachts.Jim Hagedorn, chief of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. SMG -3.21% , occasionally flies around in his World War II P-51 Mustang. But that doesn’t even begin to cover the array of activities bosses pursue to relax from their high-octane jobs.

Mark Thierer, chief executive of prescription drug benefit manager CatamaranCorp. CCT.T -1.35% , spends many off hours with his stickers. He has amassed more than 50,000 so far and has sorted them into specially designed boxes organized by eight themes including animals, food and sports. He hunts new ones down during vacations—in a cave near Sedona, Ariz., a dune buggy shop outside Las Vegas and a château in the Lake Como region of Italy.

On typical evenings and weekends, Mr. Thierer pours himself a glass of red wine, lights candles in the basement den of his Barrington, Ill., home and dives into his vast collection.

The CEO selects goofy stickers and occasionally combines them with ones of his own creation to produce “Amazing Thierer Sticker Cards” for employees, board members, friends and relatives.

“It’s so much fun to do them,” Mr. Thierer said. “I start laughing.”

He designed his first sticker card in 1999 while a senior sales leader at Caremark Rx Inc. The recipient was George Hepburn, a fellow executive at the company, now owned by CVS, who had been publicly teased at a sales meeting about his big, fluffy hair. Mr. Thierer drew a man getting his hair done surrounded by stickers of a blow dryer and hair clippers.

Mr. Hepburn said he cracked up when Mr. Thierer presented the card, which he has kept. It also carried a serious message. “I will remember winning with you in business,” Mr. Thierer wrote above a sticker photo of himself.

The Catamaran chief has since sent more than 500 cards but realizes he’ll never use all of his stickers.

“Maybe it is a little weird,” Mr. Thierer said. “I am going to go to my grave with stickers sticking out of my ears.”

David Haffner, CEO of bedspring inventor Leggett & Platt Inc.,LEG -0.30% starts his typical workday at 6:30 a.m. To unwind after hours, he invents hunting knives.

The CEO once fashioned a knife for Nascar driver James McMurray out of materials such as cabinet laminate he salvaged from the debris of a tornado that devastated the driver’s hometown of Joplin, Mo. Mr. Haffner took nearly a year to craft a replica of a 17th-century Scottish sword for a lawyer with Scottish ancestors.

He makes his weapons to the strains of bluegrass music in a machine shop crammed with 23 pieces of equipment near his Carthage, Mo., home. He built the shop to get his hobby out of his wife’s hair.

“It was the noise and the dust and the mess that I couldn’t handle,” Connie Haffner said.

Tackling up to six knife projects simultaneously “dilutes the corporate pressure,” Mr. Haffner said. He once cut into the knuckle of his right forefinger with a drill press while making a hole in a blade.

The CEO figures he has given away hundreds of knives over the past 35 years. Recipients include country music singer Eric Church, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickensand actor Liam Neeson.

Mr. Haffner met the actor while vacationing at a Belize fishing resort in 2007. He used native malachite and ziracote wood bought from a carver in front of the resort to make the handle, and an antique sawmill blade that he got from Mr. Pickens. Mr. Neeson displays it on a coffee table.

“I am just scared of losing it,” the actor said. “It’s a real thing of beauty.”

Mike Workman, former chief executive of Pillar Data Systems Inc., designs and blows up his own fireworks. He finished erecting a fireworks factory on a 20-acre site in Arizona in 2008, three years before his decade atop Pillar ended with Oracle’s acquisition of the company. He now is an Oracle senior vice president.

Outside his factory last year, Mr. Workman was testing shells for a big fireworks show when a fluorescent bulb popped inside a workshop full of combustible materials. He avoided injury, but the resulting fire destroyed all seven structures.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Mr. Workman, who salvaged thousands of pounds of shells and rockets stored underground. “This was 12 years of work to build it.”

The former CEO courted his wife with a backyard fireworks display and has won trophies at pyrotechnic conventions. But he pursues the hobby mainly for his own amusement, because he enjoys watching explosives overhead while smoking a cigar and sipping a glass of wine.

“What I like is making pretty things in the sky,” he said.

Adam Schneider, leader of the U.S. banking and capital markets practice for Deloitte LLP, said, “Senior executives can afford to take on expensive hobbies that make no sense economically.”

Take, for instance, himself. Mr. Schneider has shelled out more than $700,000 since 2006 to buy and restore about two dozen model spacecraft from Star Trek movies and TV shows. The biggest is Galileo, a 23-foot long shuttlecraft he donated to NASA’s Johnson Space Center last year.

Smaller models take up a third of his 10-room house in Livingston, N.J. “This is deeply personal about who I am,” said Mr. Schneider, who once yearned to be an astronaut.

Robert S. “Steve” Miller’s obsession is model trains. The chairman of American International Group Inc. AIG -0.66% took the hobby up a notch, spending about $150,000 building half of a planned 2,000-square-foot model railroad in the basement of his Sunriver, Ore., home. The turnaround specialist started the project in 1995 and worked on it for a decade with his late wife.

In between CEO gigs at Waste Management Inc. WM -0.45% and Federal-MogulCorp. FDML -2.34% , he drove 20,000 spikes through tiny railroad ties and laid 200 feet of track.

Mr. Miller had completed a train layout of 1,000 square feet when he put his home up for sale in 2007. The property didn’t sell for years, in part because he refused to remove his prized possession.

“I harbored the hope that somebody would come along and buy the house to get the model railroad,” he said. He finally sold the home in 2012—the year he took charge of Hawker Beechcraft Inc., and six months after he cleaned out his basement.

Mr. Miller kept 50 engines, boxcars, flatcars and cabooses.

Initially, “it seemed very uncool to be playing with trains,” said the executive, a childhood train buff.

“This was not a CEO-type hobby,” he said. But, “this was mine.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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