A CEO's hardest choice

  @FortuneMagazine June 13, 2013: 7:05 AM ET
TEC01 lars dalgaard

Lars Dalgaard, former CEO of SuccessFactors, at his home in Pacifica, Calif.

(Fortune)

On the morning of Friday, May 24, former SuccessFactors CEO Lars Dalgaard stood in front of several hundred employees in a dark suit and an ivory-colored tie. The normally dressed-down executive was known for his rambling, town-hall-style speeches; this one would be his last. Earlier that morning SAP -- the German software giant that acquired SuccessFactors for $3.4 billion just 18 months earlier -- had announced that Dalgaard was stepping down from his role as head of SuccessFactors and leader of the larger company's cloud business. "I'm going to be an investor in a venture capital firm," Dalgaard told the audience. Behind him a sign inscribed with some of his favorite quotes read, IF YOU DON'T LOVE WHAT YOU'RE DOING, GO WORK SOMEWHERE ELSE.

It was a likely ending to a common Silicon Valley tale -- studies show that over two-thirds of CEOs who sell their company leave the acquiring firm within two years. While Dalgaard, 45, had been given a seat on SAP's powerful executive board, many speculated that the brash, outspoken CEO wouldn't last long in SAP's more buttoned-up culture. But his departure had a much more personal catalyst -- his father's sudden death and his young son's battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that attacks the body's blood-forming tissues. Dalgaard's story is an extreme example of the difficult choices executives make when balancing work and family. "I thought I was awake before, but I woke up bigtime," he says.

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