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Mark Oaten Headshot

Why CEOs Can't Have Time Off Sick

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Time off sick is never good. It's even worse when you hold a senior position in business. Few leaders seem to get ill; perhaps it's the low-level beneficial stress that is part and parcel of the daily routine that has a protective effect. Or perhaps after a while the body gets used to the jet lag that comes with more international roles.

Most leaders battle through regardless, as there's too much at stake to take time off. As the boss you're simply not expected to get ill and consequently few senior managers I know take time off sick. It's one of the few issues that is rarely tackled by business and management magazines. Perhaps it's one of the last leadership taboos!

However in my world, for a couple of days this week I simply couldn't get into work. I was in bed, stricken with a bug and grumpy as hell. I love the buzz of business. I hate missing work and I get bored very fast. At least these days you don't have to watch daytime TV. Thank God for the iPad and a good movie (Woody Allen's To Rome with Love -- not his best but still 7/10).

The consequences of being ill when you are a busy chief executive can be far reaching. A day off simply lets so many people down. I should have been in Russia joining an EU trade mission and I know my PA and our Brussels lobbyist had put in many hours preparing visas and notes on trade and tariff issues in the fashion and fur trade. I felt guilty letting them down and not making the meetings in St Petersburg.

Saying that, it was much worse in my old job. Then, as a Member of Parliament, you had no deputy. The hospital ward was opened by you -- the debate in Parliament had to have you speaking. Being ill meant a missed vote or even a lost majority in Parliament.

But back to my new life working in the fashion industry as chief executive of The International Fur Trade Federation. Another reason missing out on my trip to St. Petersburg was such a blow is that Russia is a major market for luxury goods these days. We had been planning a fashion show in the Hermitage while I was due to be out there to show the latest fur designs.

Doing business in Russia means having the constitution of an ox. It's really not the place to go if you're feeling under the weather. Last time I was there it was during the "White Nights " a period in late May when it never gets dark. I was ready to crawl to bed at midnight but our Russian members said I would never be able to sleep and took me on a tour of the city and its bars. It is a most beautiful place full of character and characters. I enjoy working with the Russians and their hospitality is enormous, but so is their capacity to drink.

On another occasion last year I was visiting sable farmers outside Moscow and the same stamina was called for. The first bottle was drunk by 11 a.m. and it carried on that way until six when finally I thought I had escaped as the car came to pick me up. Our host jumped in the back seat, pressed a few James Bond-style buttons and a drinks cabinet appeared. There was no get out and I felt awful for days.

Still, it's better to feel ill as a consequence of having had a good time and having achieved something than missing out on the whole experience. While I might have been feeling as sick as a dog, this current bug most certainly did not come from vodka before you ask!!