When talking about "absentee ownership", it's important to distinguish between "out of sight" and "out of mind". Frankly, one of the criteria I use in valuing a business and determining its sustainability is asking the owner "If you disappeared for three to four weeks, would your business not only survive but continue to thrive? If so, you have a very valuable business." And, that's one way to judge what is meant by "absentee."
A business can certainly be owned and managed "out of sight" by an owner who understands the intricacies of the business, has checks and balances in place, recruits and rewards competent, honest, reliable management, and implements regular and comprehensive monitoring of the business. On the other hand, if the business is "out of mind", with the owner relinquishing ultimate control to the employees, the absentee-owner will soon lose control of his business, his revenues, and his profits.
In short, absentee ownership can be a wise investment move; but, it still requires ongoing diligence and strategic management by the person who has the most to gain--and to lose, the owner.
With proper investment of time and attention, a business-owner can be successful on an absentee basis--but, he either has to build the business with that goal in mind or buy a business that is already self-sustaining. Years ago, I started a computer manufacturing company and worked like a dog for three years building it up to multi-million dollar sales and 40 employees. My wife, two kids, and I finally took a four-week vacation to Europe--back in the days of complicated international phone calls. The second day away, I called the office, got my messages, and asked, "Does anyone need to talk to me?" After a long 8-10 wait on hold, our receptionist came back on the line and said, "No, Tim, I'm sorry, no one needs you." Two days later, I made the same call and got the same response. On hanging up the phone, I turned to my wife and said, "NOW we have a business." We enjoyed our four weeks away and found the business in even better shape than when we left. That was the reward for a lot of business-building beforehand.