Travellers' Tales

Jun 01, 1995
<p>The ups and downs of business travel foor world-weary IRO</p>

Travel is fun, or so they say. It broadens the mind and soothes the soul. Go to any bookstore and travel books will occupy a whole aisle, brimming with ideas on where to go and what to do once you get there. My Sunday newspaper has a separate section on travel which extols, in colour, the delights of ski resorts in the winter, tropical islands in the spring, beaches in the summer, mountains full of coloured foliage in the fall and numerous golf courses for year-round enjoyment.

This, of course, is the happy face of travel: the rest and relaxation; the fun in the sun and the slide down the slope; the time for forgetting investors, presentations, markets and exchanges. But now, just as my garden is coming into bloom and the last thing I want to do is leave my house in the country, I find myself packing for another trip and a very different type of travel. This is the business side of travel which, as many of you know from experience, may mean as many different cities and hotel rooms as days spent on the road.

Since so many of us do spend significant amounts of time away from our home offices, I thought it might be interesting to discover the attitudes of some of our investor relations colleagues to this subject.

Easily the most positive person I spoke with regarding business travel was Hans Richard Schmitz, chairman of the German Investor Relations Circle (DIRK) and a member of the Governing Council of the International Investor Relations Federation (IIRF). He told me, and I believe him, that he loves to travel. He looks forward to getting out of the office and meeting new people. In fact, he reports that one of his motivations for taking a job in the IR field was the opportunity to travel.

This stands in marked contrast to the prevailing sentiment I found among other IR professionals, for most of whom travel is hard work. Of course it is necessary, even vital, work. But it is also draining, tiring, exhausting, straining, taxing and wearying.

Penny Burnett of Glaxo, for example, makes 13-15 trips a year to the UK from New York, as well as having to visit investors in the US and Tokyo. She says that the UK trips tend to run together, so that at any one time it becomes hard to say when she was where last. By the way, with all this travel, she has passed the million mile mark in terms of distance flown: that's just over 40 times around the equator. At the rate achieved by Ferdinand Magellan, the man given credit for the first circumnavigation of the globe (even though he died half way round), this would have taken approximately 120 years.

On the positive side, Penny confirms something many of us would corroborate, which is that a round of good questions and interesting dialogue during an intensive run of meetings with investors does generate a certain energy. In such circumstances, telling the same story several times a day is not repetitive or dull; on the contrary, at its best it can be decidedly exhilarating.

I am fond of Boston for this reason. My company has some great long-term shareholders there, with whom I have a special relationship. I also like the city because all the major investors are within a four block area, and the hotel I stay in there sits right in the middle of them. That makes for short walks in bad weather.

I asked other IR people about their favourite cities and was offered many different candidates, including Paris, London, Boston, Montreal, Munich and Edinburgh. Nicholas Powloff, who is with Z-Landerbank Bank Austria, chose an interesting mix. He says he likes Singapore and New York, which between them take in such opposite extremes. Singapore is Asian, for a start, but also so clean, efficient, and well-organised; while New York is boisterous, noisy, dirty - and North American. Please note that I feel free to say these things about New York City because I live in Connecticut, where we all like to make disparaging remarks about The Big Apple.

I discovered that many of us who travel so much have taken up different habits or special projects to break the tedium. Paul Dionne of Citicom-PVD in Milan, Italy always aims to take non-traditional means of transportation. He rides trains when he can, as well as hovercraft, boats, ferries and helicopters. He says that his only travelling mishap occurred on a 10-seat propeller plane that got caught in a storm between London and Glasgow. I should have asked him if this was the origin of his preference for other means of transportation.

In case you are anticipating them at this point, I have no intention now of indulging in a string of stories of travel disasters. For those who like this sort of tale, in my February article I told the story of Tom Myers, director of investor relations for TRW, and his experience when the engine of the plane he was travelling in caught fire and had to make an emergency landing.

However, I do want to tell you a travel story with a happy ending. I heard it from Gary Lloyd, director of investor relations for TransCanada Pipelines in Canada and a member of the IIRF Governing Council. He had arrived for a flight just in time to see it backing away from the gate. While airline personnel were telling him he had to leave the ramp, he noticed through the windows that the plane was coming back: the pilot actually returned to the gate to pick him up.

Of course, many of us have tricks for making travel easier. I object to having to manoeuvre all the paraphernalia required for a presentation - not to mention a lap-top PC and my own luggage - to and through airports, taxis and hotels. So I always try to send slides and materials on ahead and rarely take my PC. I am not in the majority in this, however: it seems that most of my IR colleagues prefer the security of carrying such items themselves.

I also keep a suitcase at home pre-packed with essentials. And I travel with a specific set of mix-and-match clothes guaranteed not to wrinkle and guaranteed to fit in one small carry-on piece of luggage. I find that many of my female colleagues tend to do the same. The men, however, appear to be far less organised - except for my husband, who is more pre-packed and organised than I am. Maybe this is another one of those gender-specific traits that social scientists are always looking for.

Finally, I carried out a small and unscientific survey on ease of adjustment to time differences. I remember reading somewhere that 75 per cent of the flying population finds it easier to adjust to the trip from Europe to the US than to one in the opposite direction. Among the people I talked with, opinion was unanimous that westward is easier than eastward, not least because travelling from America to Europe invariably involves losing a night's sleep. Several people also noted, though, that regardless of the direction of travel, it was all a good deal easier when they were younger.

As a finishing note to this travelogue, I want to remind you all that one trip that will certainly be worth the effort will be the one you make to Frankfurt, to take part in the Sixth Annual Investor Relations Conference on September 11 and 12. For this event, the destination will undoubtedly justify the journey

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