At 43, Scott Leonard is a successful entrepreneur, husband, father of three and owner of a 50-foot catamaran he plans to cruise for three years with his family while using the latest technology to manage his company from the boat.
Leonard, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., has dubbed himself "The Mobile CEO." His intention is to embark on an adventure of a lifetime with his wife, Mandi, and sons Griffin, 10, Jake, 9, and Luke, 4, while proving it is possible for a busy CEO to achieve some balance in his life among work, play and family.
Leonard launched Trovena LLC, his wealth management company, in 1996. Four years later, he and Mandi started talking about how they could realize a longtime dream of his - and now Mandi's, too - to sail around the world.
Within two years they had adopted a plan to take an extended sailing sabbatical. They had two boys then. They now have three, but that hasn't deterred them. They plan to home-school the children on the boat and have timed the voyage so that their eldest, Griffin, can start high school back home with his peers.
The Leonards shove off this summer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., aboard their 2008 Lagoon 500, Three Little Birds, named for the boys and for the Bob Marley song, with its refrain, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right." But the key that unlocked the door to this dream was Leonard's determination to make himself - in his words - "intentionally irrelevant" at Trovena, a highly regarded company with four offices around the country, 13 employees and $450 million of client assets under its management.
"It's hard for entrepreneurs to give up control," he says. "You start your business because you don't want to work for anyone else and wind up working for your business. The Mobile CEO is about getting your life back and restoring balance."
Leonard says he has hired the right people. He has trained them well. He pays them so their financial success is linked to the company's success. And he has set up systems and processes so that he doesn't have to juggle day-to-day details. He delegates a lot to his staff. They screen the daily flood of e-mails and are expected to answer most client queries. "I'm still going to be involved in running the business," he says, just not as involved.
Leonard says new communications technology has given him the tools to oversee Trovena from Three Little Birds, whether he's in the middle of the Pacific, in port in Antigua or the Galapagos, or in Sydney, Australia. "I'm very lucky that the technology has gotten to where I need it to be," he says. "The linchpin part of it is satellite technology - its reliability and cost."
His basic tools are an Apple iPad with a wireless keyboard, an iPhone and a desktop computer. Out at sea, he can send and receive satellite transmissions - voice, text, Skype or e-mail - to keep in touch with the office. Most other times, near shore or in port, he can send the same messages - text, voice, e-mail or Skype - over the Internet by Wi-Fi or broadband cellular.
He will have two Wi-Fi antennas on the boat, a small one inside to serve as a wireless link to his computers and a big one outside to link his computers with hot spots landside. He can go ashore and use Wi-Fi at the ubiquitous Internet cafes and beach bars around the world or access local cellular broadband with his iPhone.
Leonard says he will use the least expensive alternative available at the moment and set communication priorities - must it be done now at sea, or can it wait until Three Little Birds reaches port?
Satellite, because it is the most costly, will be used sparingly. The quality and speed of cellular broadband data transmissions are high, and it probably will be the cost-effective communications link in many situations. "With the roaming packages they have today, most text messages are free," he says.
Leonard expects to keep his business communications bill below $1,000 a month without short-shrifting his office correspondence. "I want to be in touch as much as possible," he says.
He plans to fly back to California once a quarter and, in a crisis - the Sept. 29, 2008, stock market crash, for instance - he believes he can manage the immediate response effectively from a long distance. If his presence is required after he does triage, he'll high-tail it for the nearest port and fly home. "There are people in the office that can respond at a moment's notice," he says, but a deep and prolonged market crash might require him to return home for an unscheduled visit to meet with clients.
Leonard believes that what he has done to take himself out of Trovena's day-to-day operations not only will improve his family life, but also sharpen the company's performance by letting his employees do their jobs without his micromanagement and by freeing his time for big-picture strategizing. "This stuff is straight out of the business management textbooks," he says.
It's hard to do, but his commitment to go cruising gave him the incentive to act. He says it also will be good for his family. The Leonards have sold their 3,200-square-foot home, as well as most of their belongings, in Hermosa Beach. "It has forced us to simplify our lives," he says. And it is giving them a chance to revel in their element - the water. "We're a really big water family," Leonard says.
He is a sailor, water-skier and scuba diver who played water polo in college and for the U.S. national team. Mandi, who managed multimillion-dollar software contracts for Oracle before the children were born, also is a water sports enthusiast - a sailor, scuba diver, surfer, paddleboarder and kayaker.
Griffin plays water polo and scuba-dives, Jake surfs and paddleboards and is working on his scuba certification, and little Luke is already a snorkeler. Leonard says the four-cabin Lagoon is perfect for their family. Three Little Birds is stable, doesn't heel and has lots of room inside and out. Each of the boys will have his own cabin and head, which is important so that each of them has a sanctuary to retreat to.
The family plans to take a year sailing the Caribbean to ease into the cruising lifestyle. They'll first visit the Bahamas, spend hurricane season in the southern Caribbean, work their way up into the northern Caribbean next winter, visit Mexico's Yucatan and Belize's barrier reefs and rainforests, put in at Cuba (if they can), then transit the Panama Canal in June 2012, if they feel comfortable at that point making a long ocean passage.
If not, they'll stay in the Caribbean, but their plans for now are to sail to the Galapagos, spend 25 days in transit across the Pacific to Tahiti, and head on to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Micronesia - their destination. They plan to steer well clear of the pirate-infested Indian Ocean, Africa and Middle East and forgo a full circumnavigation. "I wanted to complete the circle, but we're not going to, at least not this time with the family," Leonard says. "I'd still like to, but that's not what this trip is about."
The boys will have a Monday-through-Friday school schedule - three or four hours a day - with Mandi as teacher, and the family will chronicle its adventures at www.mobile ceosetsail.com. The couple will sail the boat together. Leonard will keep busy writing a book about how to become intentionally irrelevant and overseeing Trovena at arm's length.
"People think we'll just sail off into the sunset and sit around drinking rum-and-Cokes," he says. No, but life on Three Little Birds will be simpler than it was in Hermosa Beach, a real education for the whole family, but also very disciplined.
"I'm not going to work any less," Leonard says. "I am going to work smarter."
This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.