Business travel is a necessary part of the job for many industrial manufacturing professionals. The opportunity to travel is sometimes embraced, sometimes resented and sometimes endured. The reason for the travel varies from sales to service; training to tradeshows. Sometimes destinations are fun and interesting, but more often than not, they are boring and familiar. Despite the emergence of e-commerce and the Internet, the reality is that travel continues to be an increasingly important part of doing business in our global marketplace – whether we look forward to getting on a plane or not.
Over the years, I have travelled a lot for business – and for many reasons. I discovered that during this time I migrated from being a person who initially embraced each opportunity to being a person who resents certain trips. Recently on a plane ride home from a visit to Monterrey, Mexico, I had time to reflect on my gradual, but complete, 180-degree turn around.
Early in my career, I was enthusiastic about every travel opportunity. I was relatively young, had few responsibilities at home, and was usually working in a technical role. Usually, every place I travelled to was a place I had never seen before. My appetite for adventure was still high. Often, I was working with others and had the benefit of their company. Plus, since my role was that of a problem solver or solution provider, my arrival was usually eagerly anticipated.
During this time, my travel motto was “work hard, play hard.” I would put in a full day’s work, then I’d be sure to take in some of the sites or activities unique to that area. When in New York City, for example, I would catch a Yankee’s game or a Broadway play. In New Orleans, there was the lure of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. In France, I climbed up the Eiffel Tower and walked through Notre Dame Cathedral. I had a chance to see many things that I otherwise wouldn’t have visited – and I took full advantage (always paying these expenses myself, of course).
Gradually my professional role changed, and my responsibilities at home and the office grew. Many of the places I needed to go to were places I’d visited before. Travel became personally inconvenient and trips were scheduled to be as tight (and therefore as short) as possible. My sense of adventure diminished to the point that I stayed in the same hotel chains and ate in the same type of restaurants. My ‘after work’ entertainment consisted of catching up on my e-mails, watching a movie or reading a book.
Also, I think travel was easier 10 or 15 years ago. It might be my bad travel attitude, but it seems there are a lot more delays and travel frustrations today. (As I write this, I’m sitting at the Pearson Airport. It’s 11pm. My flight that was scheduled to depart at 8:10pm has been delayed multiple times, and is now scheduled to depart at 1am.)
Now a travel curmudgeon, I hit personal rock bottom a while back when, as a result of unfortunate scheduling, I was forced to spend an entire weekend in El Paso, Texas. (No knock on El Paso – but I’ve been there so many times I’ve seen all the points of interest to me.) I wasted the Saturday afternoon by walking through malls and visiting a couple of motorcycle shops – activities that were certainly not in accordance to my earlier travel motto and attitude. Truth is I could do those things anywhere. At dinner that night (alone, and in one of my ‘routine’ dinner venues), I started reading some of the tourist brochures I picked up in desperation at the hotel, determined not to waste away another day. Fresh air and exercise would do me a world of good, so I planned to do some hiking at Franklin Mountain State Park.
The Franklin Mountains are the southern tip of the Rockies. Instead of being covered in rock and trees – like they are further north – these mountains are more like deserts. During visits to El Paso before, I often noticed the beauty of these mountains. Their tan colour is a backdrop to the city and contrasts wonderfully with near perfect blue skies. The State Park is bounded on three sides by the city, so I didn’t have far to go. Sunday morning I bought a hiking hat and a couple bottles of water and renewed my sense of adventure.
The hike was everything I hoped it would be and more. I met other hikers on the trail, and just like walking a dog in the park, we instantly had something in common to chat about. I saw numerous lizards and other small animals, flying bugs the size of small birds, beautiful desert plants, and many vistas that I could only experience here. At the end of my chosen trail were natural caves, offering me a shady spot to rest before the climb down.
The day was just what the doctor ordered: it was great physical exercise, I met nice people along the trail, and I saw many unique things. It was good for the body and the soul. My attitude soared; I felt restored.
I learned, or relearned, key lessons that trip. For many of us, travel is a fact of life in our industry and continues to be as the global marketplace expands. True, travel can be demanding and inconvenient for reasons we can’t control. But what we can control is our attitude and whether or not we take advantage of the opportunities that business travel offers. And when the youthful enthusiasm wanes, we may need to be more intentional and deliberate with our exploration and adventure plans. This is not just good for you personally – if it improves your attitude, it’s probably good for business. too.
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, a London-based electronic manufacturing company. He is also currently a member of the London Regional Manufacturing Council. E-mail him at email@example.com. For information about the LRMC, visit www.manufacturinglondon.com.