Making the most of Business Travel

Frequent business travelers are more concerned with saving time than money to obtain the results they need.

Some time back when Patrick Lizot’s youngest child was asked, What does your daddy do? He would answer, my daddy works on a plane. Lizot chuckles at the recollection. He is not a pilot, but as managing director of FCB Philippines, a French company designing and manufacturing heavy industry equipment. Lizot logs some 250,000 kilometers a year, mostly between Asia and Europe.

How does Lizol balance the demands of constant travel and a growing family? What does he do when he comes back, wanting to unwind, only to find that they have planned family activities and expect his participation? ‘I will go with them’ he replies without hesitation.

Lizol once took his wife and eldest daughter to China. Though they hardly saw him, the two enjoyed the trip. Lizol says, ‘I’m very lucky with my wife. Even if we do not see each other, she’s okay. I’m free to do my business.’

In contrast, SK experience proves that mixing business with pleasure might result in conflicting expectations of the trip. SK is managing director of the Asia Pacific division of Computer Land Corporation, the world’s largest personal computer reseller. Because he oversees operations in 17 countries in Asia, SK travels from 24 to 30 weeks a year.

As SK’s wife was keen to visit some of the countries he was traveling to, he once invited her to join him. But, he recalls, after visiting six countries in 16 days, we decided it was not a good idea for the family to join me. Spending time with them would take the focus off my business objectives.

Frequent traveling has taught these managers how to obtain value for money. Generally, they travel economy on short flights, as it does not make sense to travel business class for flights of less than three hours. They try to stay at regular hotels so they can get better service and room rates, as well as additional perks such as lower rates for use of the business centers.

It is also a good idea to join the club of the airline you use to receive extra perks. Lizol, a member of Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club, is entitled to advanced seat reservations, priority wait listing, check in at first or business class counters, extra baggage allowance priority baggage handling, the use of first class lounges and discounts at Hotels and car rental companies.

Rather than rely on Hotel business centers, a Singaporean management consultant who travels every month, takes his own portable printer and fax machine. He carries his Singapore registered cellular phone wherever it can be used.

A regional manager for Southeast Asia for Corning Singapore , Pte. Ltd., who is away on a trip one week to ten days a month, travels light enough not to have check in baggage. This speeds up immigration and customs clearance. He does not care much whether he flies business or first class, as long as his flight is a non-stop one to save time.

To obtain the results he wants from his meetings, SK does a lot of pre-trip planning to make sure that the right people attend and that they all have a clear idea of the objectives of the meeting, to plan a ‘to do’ list, and follow up strategy, he says

The managing director of Software firm Frexen Management Services Pte Ltd in Singapore, makes it a point always to do business on weekdays rather than in the evenings or on weekends. This way he says ‘I do not take my counterparts away from their families’. During business hours, they can give me all their time.

To stay in touch with their families, frequent travelers avoid being away on weekends and they call home a lot. Says SK he religiously calls his family every day.

These executives generally use their travel time to catch up on their reading. SK reads not only about developments in the computer industry, but also about the current economic and political situation of the countries he is visiting. He likes to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation with his business partners.

While other managers spend flight time fine tuning their presentations, Teo does not work on the plane. He is not comfortable doing this while a stranger who can read matters related to my work, sits besides me, he explains.

Frequent travel has taught me to delegate, says Ng. At the office I always seem to be needed. It is good for me to leave someone to do the ‘dirty work’ so his talent will flourish.

It has also taught her to be flexible when things go wrong. Most managers she notes, because they have high demands on, demand a lot from other people. You have to learn to discount the minor irritations as being part of the life in the country you are visiting, she advises. Otherwise, she says you will get stressed out and will not accomplish much.

For a manager with regional responsibilities like nothing less than on site visits will do. He needs to see his team members to fully appreciate what is going on in the market, he stresses. Each trip helps him focus time and energy on that site’s problems.