Thomas Dolan saw his fatigue as threat to the future of his Rockville company


January 07, 1991|By Ellen James Martin

Thomas Dolan used to rise at 3:30 a.m., spending seven long days at the Rockville printing company he co-founded a dozen years ago.

Granted, he wore the title of president. Yet in reality, Mr. Dolan was functioning as "chief cook and bottle washer" at Printing Images Inc., a printing firm specializing in two-color brochures and pamphlets. Not only did he head the company, he also immersed himself in estimating, writing up jobs, tracking production work and billing. He also frequently spent the afternoon making sales calls.

Chronic fatigue was one of the reasons Mr. Dolan, 48, made the decision two months ago that he would back away from what he describes as his classic workaholic pattern of life. But even more important, he says, was the fact that his threatened burnout seemed to jeopardize the growth of his company. He felt the urgent need to remove himself from the nitty-gritty of his company's daily life if he were to contribute to the firm's future.

"I've always been a very hands-on manager. But I'm trying to assume a different role in the company. I'm trying to be more of a leader than a doer," says Mr. Dolan, whose firm employs 40 people and registered $3 million in sales last year.

Like many workaholics, Mr. Dolan has found it difficult to delegate.

But after his recent decision to back away from the details of his company's daily life, he hired production and sales managers to whom he is now delegating much of the work he once did himself.

Now his intention is to spend more time in overall administration and planning.

He's no longer working weekends. On weekdays, Mr. Dolan now rises at 7 a.m. (a late hour in his book) and spends much of his day at the office overseeing the work of his sales and production managers, as well as his controller.

Mr. Dolan allows that his transformation into a non-workaholic president has been a difficult adjustment. But he says that the steps he's taken have been essential not only for the company's growth but also for the personal growth of those who report to him.

In recent years, he recalls, he began hearing complaints from subordinates that his heavy-handed management style was stifling their own professional growth.

"I'd gotten feedback from people -- especially over the last few years -- that I was pushing them too hard, working them too long and was too demanding on details," he remembers.

Mr. Dolan doesn't regret all the 90-hour weeks he put in during the early years when his company was getting established. "I made the conscious decision that I was going to put everything I had into this business and make it succeed," he says.

Yet later he began to resent the cost of his long hours on his family and personal life. And ultimately he knew that he had to change, to gain perspective, if he was to run his company in the future.

"I knew that when the business stopped being fun," he says.

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