Balancing Act

"Mommy, will you try to come home early tonight?"

After years of telling my young boys that I would try and make it home early, this became their usual goodbye to me. Of course I would try, but running a business requires long hours, and finding time for work and my family wasn't easy. I wanted to grow my company, but I wanted to be a good mother, too. So I found a way to do both.

It was about setting boundaries, keeping work and family appointments, and creating quality time with the family. Through simple solutions and tweaking my daily routine, I am able to have a happy family and a thriving business.

In 1999, I launched HAAN Corp. in Korea with a new type of steam cleaner for bare floors. My invention grew out of the need to make housework more efficient. Like most Korean women, I dreaded cleaning the floors. This is largely because it is customary to do everything on the floor, including eating and sleeping, and we don't wear shoes in the home. If the floor is not immaculate, you'll notice even little grains of dirt. Therefore, Korean women are always sweeping and mopping.The HAAN Floor Sanitizer was created to help women have easier lives; and as I developed my company, I've found ways to remain true to that philosophy.

The early years of my company were especially difficult; I had two toddlers, and I was caring for my mother-in-law. My family needed me, and so did my business. While the mission of my company is to create a simpler life for women, my life was becoming increasingly more demanding and anything but simple. Just as I found a better way to clean floors, I had to find a way to balance my work and family.

To help create a healthy work/home balance, I reevaluated my daily routine. I woke up earlier and tried to leave in the morning before my children were awake. My advice to anyone who becomes a CEO is to utilize those early-morning hours; I am able to get so much accomplished before the workday begins. To counter my absence in the mornings, I made getting home to my children a priority. I made it a rule not to schedule late meetings or weekend appointments, and to be at home at night to put my children to bed and read them a story.

Since I spent so much time away from my children during the week, I tried to compensate and make big weekend plans. I think many working moms do this, and I put a lot of effort into planning the perfect family weekends. We had good times, but I was missing the point.

A kindergarten teacher said that children cherish memories from daily life and the time spent with their parents. I had a revelation when I heard this, and instead of planning organized activities and hectic weekends, we now spend more relaxed, quiet moments together. I made sure that our time was about being with each other and not about an elaborate event. I found that the boys were happier, and the weekends were less stressful. Even now, as a family, we spend our weekends hiking, riding bicycles or just spending time at home.

As I grew into my role as the head of a large corporation, I learned that adding my family to my work schedule helped. My advice to any woman in a similar situation is to treat time with your family as important as any business obligation. Schedule your kids' school activities with your work meetings and plan on being present for every game, play and awards ceremony. Make dates with your husband, without the kids, and stick to those appointments. As heads of industry, women are great leaders, and tapping into some of the same skills used at the office can be equally invaluable for running your home.

Many successful women often try to do too much. Although these women wouldn't think twice about increasing their staff, when it comes to their family, they are less likely to ask for help. If you need help as head of a business, you hire employees. Get help if household responsibilities, such as cleaning or shopping, are eating up your time. Anything that can be removed from daily tasks will open up more time to spend with the family.

Planning shorter business trips is essential. Now that HAAN Corp. has expanded to the United States and China, I am often called away for longer periods of time. When I travel, I try to spend less than two weeks away from my family. I am a fan of Skype and stay in close contact with the boys while on the road. During travel periods I also set up regular family "meetings" to keep up with their day-to-day lives while I'm away.

I am not the only working parent in my company, and I want my employees to have time with their families, as well. The typical work day in Korea is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Traffic builds up quickly around those times, leading to longer commutes and less time spent with the family. To help my employees avoid the traffic and have more family time, I've changed our company hours; we now work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I also implemented one day a week that everyone has to leave on time and can't stay late at the office. I feel lucky to have found the balance between work and family, and I truly want my employees to have quality time with their children. If there are things that I can do to help them, I do.

The core of HAAN Corp. is to make women's lives easier. All women are busy, regardless of whether they run a large corporation or if they are stay-at-home moms. The busier a women's life gets, the more likely she is to neglect her own needs. Many of the products HAAN has developed resulted from trying to find a simpler solution to an everyday task. This is how the floor steamer was invented, and this trend continues with the new line of skin-care products launching in January 2011. For women who don't have hours to spend on a skin-care regime or time to visit a spa for a professional treatment, I've collaborated with top skin-care experts to develop products that will deliver amazing results. The new line enhances a woman's beauty through simple, easy steps -- one more thing to take the stress out of a woman's life.

Having a family and running a company isn't easy, but I've found ways to make it work without sacrificing. Sure, I wish I could be there for everything, but little adjustments to my daily routine have allowed me to accomplish my goals as a businesswoman and create a loving home for my children and husband. My advice to other women in similar situations is threefold:

  • Find a schedule that works for you and your family, and stick to it. 
  • If you need help at home, get it.  
  • Don't make big, elaborate plans; instead, find activities that will help your family bond.

HAAN Corp. will continue to find ways to make women's lives easier. That's because I'm always looking for new ways to make my life easier so I can do what I love most -- spend time with my family.