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If your job is the most important thing in your life, your priorities are mixed up

Lessons from successful leaders in biotech, software, and real estate.

Top, from left: Karen Fish-Will, Melissa Fish-Crane, and Aron Ain. Bottom, from left: Stefanie Mallett and John Maraganore.

Ten years.

It’s the term limit for the head of the FBI. The average life expectancy of a bloodhound. And about the length of time, on average, a CEO runs a US company.

The executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has tracked CEOs who’ve left their jobs since 2010 and found that for private companies, the average tenure was 10.4 years, while the heads of publicly traded companies served 7.5 years. The Globe interviewed a number of CEOs of private and public Massachusetts businesses who are approaching their 10th anniversary or have passed that milestone, including a few who have spent their entire careers at the same place.


Here’s what they had to say:

John Maraganore of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

John Maraganore, 57, has run Alnylam Pharmaceuticals since the Cambridge-based biotech was launched in 2002. The company went public in 2004, and has about 1,200 employees across 15 countries. In 2018, it won approval of Onpattro, its first drug and the first therapy based on a Nobel-Prize-winning technique known as RNA interference. The drug treats a rare disease, hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis.

Why have you stayed at Alnylam for 17 years?

This is an industry that takes an average of 10 to 20 years before a raw startup can bring its first product to market. Now we’re at a stage where we’re still not profitable. We’re aiming to be profitable in a short period of time.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I do small town halls with different groups of employees around the world. I love that.

And your least favorite?

When, unfortunately, you have to let an employee go, whether it’s because of fit or performance. That’s never fun.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on the job?

I’ve learned that you can never listen enough. I don’t think I was particularly a good listener but I got to be better over time.


Stefania Mallett of ezCater.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Stefania Mallett, 64, is CEO of ezCater, a Boston-based online business catering service that she cofounded in 2007. It’s a popular place to work among millennials — 79 percent of its 850 employees are 34 or younger.

You describe yourself as a serial entrepreneur, but you’ve been CEO of ezCater for 12 years. Why haven’t you gotten the itch to move on?

So many people we hire tell us how special this place is — and despite our success already, we’re just getting started. I’m in for the long haul.

You say you hire for values: What are they?

We have nine ingredients in the culture recipe. At the core is to be insanely helpful.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Hiring people. I love bringing on talent and putting people in the right place and watching them not just fit but flourish. I love watching them turn into their best selves.

What’s your least favorite part?

It’s funny saying this given [this interview], but there’s one issue I do struggle with — I don’t believe in the star CEO model. It’s not wise for the company and it’s not good for the CEO. It goes to the CEO’s head.

What was your most memorable moment at work?

Can I have two? A few months ago, we did a survey of our people. Ninety-three percent said they feel they can be themselves at work. When I read that, I put my head down on my desk and felt, I can die now. The other thing that came to mind was in February we raised another round of money. We had said in 2014 that we were going to get to the $1 billion valuation, and we got there.


Karen Fish-Will (left) and Melissa Fish-Crane of Peabody Properties.

Karen Fish-Will, 61, and her sister, Melissa Fish-Crane, 47, are the chief executive and chief operating officer, respectively, of Peabody Properties, the Braintree-based property management company. Peabody was founded by their father, Edward Fish, in 1976, and they started working there in high school. After their father died in 2010, Karen and Melissa took the top two jobs. Peabody has about 550 employees and manages more than 13,000 units in New England, New Jersey, and Florida.

How does it feel being in charge for nearly a decade?

Karen: I love what I do. It’s really not a job. It’s a way of life.

What was your most memorable day in your career?

Karen: Probably the day I sold 35 condos in Charlestown in one day, in the 1980s. [She was a real estate broker in Peabody’s sales division at the time.] It was phenomenal.

How has your workforce changed in the past decade or two?

Melissa: There’s been a real generational shift. If you’re giving them a task, they want to understand why they have to do that task, whereas before, if your supervisor told you you had to do something, you just did it.

Is that good or bad?

Melissa: I personally think there’s a benefit. If an employee understands why they’re doing the task at hand, they’re much more apt to buy into it and take ownership.


What’s your least favorite part of the job?

Karen: Technology, computer spreadsheets. You press the wrong button, you get the wrong answer.

Aron Ain of Kronos.

Aron Ain, 61, has spent his career at one company: Kronos, the workforce management software firm. He joined at the age of 21 in 1979, two years after his older brother, Mark Ain, founded Kronos with two pals. When Mark retired in 2005, Aron became CEO. Today, the Lowell-based company has 6,300 employees in 70 locations worldwide.

Why have you been at the same company for 40 years?

Some people say, “What kind of wacko works at the same place his whole career?” But I’ve loved working here, so I’ve stayed.

How has your workforce changed?

Employees have a higher expectation of a partnership with their employer. It’s not a relationship where the employer is dominant and employee is subservient.

You’ve made employee retention a high priority. How do you do that?

We trust our people. For example, we have an [unlimited] vacation policy. But the great part isn’t that they can take, say, four to six weeks off. It’s that now they feel liberated if something comes up: “My dog walker didn’t show up so I’ve got to leave at 3” or “I’ve got a problem with an elderly parent, so I’m working from home.” I’m more concerned about what they do, not where they do it.


What’s the work-life balance like at Kronos?

I tell people all the time that if the most important thing in their lives is working at Kronos, they have their priorities mixed up. The most important thing is their family.

Jonathan Saltzman is a Boston Globe staff writer. He can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @saltzmanglobe. Interviews were condensed and edited.