Business

How globe-trotting executives manage travel demands

Sir Martin Sorrell
Image caption Sir Martin Sorrell's company operates in more than 100 countries with 2,400 offices

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the advertising and communications giant WPP, does have a home - but he does not see it very often.

"I would say I rarely spend a week in one place. I am away for about six months of every year. I keep two passports and I don't know how much time I spend in airports."

WPP has operations in 107 countries, 150,000 employees and a turnover of almost £10bn ($15.5bn) so he does have a lot of ground to cover.

So much so, that London and New York act as local hubs for, respectively, Asia and Europe, and the United States and South America.

When not travelling, Sir Martin's day is a long one.

"A typical day means getting up at about 6am. I usually turn on CNBC or Bloomberg, then I catch up on email first thing, like I'm doing now here in Las Vegas.

"Then, I usually enter the office where I have breakfast, catch up on the newspapers digitally, for example the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, followed by a couple of meetings, internal and external phone calls, followed by a business lunch.

"The afternoon consists of more meetings, then a business dinner, some TV and bed at about 11.30pm, when the boring schedule starts again," he laughs.

Personal assistance

He is one of any number of people whose business interests make it almost impossible to commute from home in the way most of us do.

Organising such a life takes help.

Sir Martin says he gets that from two personal assistants (PAs), one in London and one in New York.

Company heads almost universally have help and PAs are nothing new, but, says Cora Lydon, editor of Executive PA magazine, their role has changed.

"A lot of people have the idea that a PA is just a glorified receptionist and just answers the phone. But the PA is almost as important as the executive themselves.

"A lot of PAs don't just focus on the admin side. They are the gatekeepers, knowing who to allow access to the boss and who to block. And they have access to a lot of sensitive information before it is filtered through to the rest of the business."

Image caption Faarah Sarkari of A La Concierge: "Our motto is anything is possible - as long as it is legal and ethical"

She says that some top business people need so much help in organising their lives that they have assistants for both business and private life, although she says this is more common among celebrity bosses, where the PA is pretty much a live-in companion.

"For company executives, very few of our PAs would be expected to pick up the dry cleaning or organise a dinner party."

Most large companies, one way or another, will try to arrange their executives' schedules internally, although the amount of planning and booking can be so much that outsourcing some of the tasks makes sense, particularly the travel side, assuming there is no private company jet.

As chief executive for Blue Mountain Coffee, Chilean-born Peter de Bruyne's work means he also has a peripatetic life: "I have a flat in London, commute to Jamaica and also spend a lot of time in the US. I suppose three months is the maximum I spend anywhere."

He does not spend quite as much time as Sir Martin Sorrell in airport lounges but, even so, it is a big part of his life: "My travel adds up to about a month a year - it doesn't sound like a lot but it is actually a hell of a lot. Miami Airport I am at all the time."

He organises most things himself, something he finds no problems with: "In terms of living, no, I don't find it difficult at all.

"You're calling me on my Blackberry and my laptop is always with me. I've answered complicated questions in airport lounges - you can almost do it while running for an aeroplane."

For those who are not as organised as these two executives there are services that go beyond those offered by PAs. Concierge companies which can look after just about any request, are mushrooming around the world.

Unsurprisingly a lot of growth is in fast-growing markets like India.

A La Concierge in Mumbai is one such company, with clients including JP Morgan Chase and divisions of the Indian corporate giants Tata and Reliance. It offers more than 100 different services to corporate clients, including travel, medical and legal services, IT and help in running the home, house cleaning, babysitting and getting the car serviced.

It has been asked for less prosaic services, such as organising elephants for a children's party, and a tour of North West India's palaces, with the specific detail it should include a stay with His Highness Gaj Singh, the Maharaja of Jodhpur.

A La Concierge's brand manager Faarah Sarkari says the company will consider most requests: "Our motto is anything is possible - as long as it is legal and ethical - we will do it."

Memory stick

While a concierge service exists to help smooth the path for people with complicated lives - or needs - Sir Martin Sorrell says it would be an organisational layer too far: "I never use concierge services - life is difficult enough."

Peter de Bruyne does not use them either: "I think they are used by people who live a more hedonistic lifestyle. I am my own concierge service. I know where the best restaurants are. I don't need someone in Geneva or London telling me."

But no matter how much help is provided and by whom, the person doing the travelling themselves has to be organised themselves.

Image caption Peter de Bruyne: "Three months is the maximum I spend anywhere"

Peter de Bruyne says he has also learned to keep things straight at a personal effects level by buying several sets of clothes: "I parallel wardrobe, have duplicate favourite items. And in any case when you are going to a hot country you don't need many clothes - just a good laundry."

He naturally also relies on technology: "It is very easy to be organised. You use electric filing and carry your database with you.

"Don't compare me to a Russian oligarch - I have neither the wealth nor the complexity of business - but I have Russian friends who literally carry everything on a memory stick - if they can manage that, so can I."

Sir Martin's tip is also electronic: "I deal with things as quickly as I can. I try not to delay, and answer phone calls and emails as promptly as possible."

Better technology was expected to reduce the amount of business travel, but in fact it simply operates alongside physical trips.

A recent survey conducted by Oxford Economics for America Express found that four out of five global executives believe face-to-face meetings are essential to their organisation's success and more than a third think they would lose custom if they did not physically meet clients.

Sir Martin says technology can eliminate the need for certain meetings: "I do do a bit of video conferencing but I'm not one who believes it will totally replace travel - even though the products are becoming better. I think what I'm really looking forward to technologically is a Star Trek Transporter. 'Beam me up, Scotty'!"

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