My secret to a successful business trip? Take the business out of it, unless, of course, it's monkey business which is, as far as this rutting chimp is concerned, the whole point of foreign travel on expenses. Take the client business out of a business trip and what do you have? Well, a delightful, little séjour somewhere that always has its redeeming features if you search hard enough.
Take the monkey business out of a business trip and what do you have? A charmless chore without a whiff of excitement. Coming back and having something tangible — other than a sheaf of expenses bulging your wallet — to show for the firm's outlay is all well and good but never mistake it for the priority.
A fortnight into my time at Salvation Bank and I got wind of the likelihood that the transfer of my registration from the FCA was in the offing. With it, several atmospheres of management pressure and waves of political heat come as standard so it was time to hit the road to make this immersion back into the fray as gradual as possible.
Not in the office means not under the megawatt beam of management's searchlight. Travel is first flight and then pursuit. Adroitly, I suggested this pre-registration 'lull' as an opportunity to get the bothersome trips out of the way so I could fully concentrate on getting commission through the door once the licence was in place. As others have before, they fell for this ruse. If they think my unregulated presence on the trading floor was a lull, just wait until I've got the thumbs up.
Massaging the agenda
It's crucial to be in control of the agenda of your business travel because if you leave it to someone else, chances are the timetable will be hectic with dawn flights, jam-packed with back-to-back meetings and little slack in the schedule for the things which make these affairs tolerable: a stroll around an art gallery; furtive infiltration; a guided tour of monuments and cultural highlights; a leisurely lunch al fresco; a riverside run; a soapy massage.
It is better to travel alone then to stay in charge of proceedings and then build the diary around the latter activities, fitting in any 'business' around them rather than vice-versa. I like to keep appointments to a minimum of say coffee with one client and lunch or dinner with another. Anything more is overdoing it and with so little of my personality to divide among my clients, I have to be careful not to over-extend myself and leave them feeling short-changed. You don't want them feeling as though you're a broker-whore servicing all-comers but rather an expensive courtesan who selects her clientele with discretion.
A two-day minibreak then, to Frankfurt and Prague with just a lunch in each and the (overstated) possibility of a coffee or a handshake with several other counterparties which I knew would never materialise. Yes, Gentle Reader, this is what I do best: swan around the fairest cities of Old Europe on expenses in the summertime. My preferred hotel in Frankfurt offers beautiful views over the River Main through its floor-to-ceiling windows and I like to soak in the bath with a glass of Riesling and a high-class escort on off-peak rates, while watching the sunset after some late afternoon's saturnalia. This is what a business trip is all about, not that traipsing round the offices, touting my research wares with despair hanging about me like an ill-fitting suit.
All's well that ends well
My overnight in Prague, however, must represent the apotheosis of the short-haul business jolly. My one and only client lunch finished up by 1pm with ambiguous commitments made by both parties to make us feel as though we had not wasted our time. This afforded me the whole afternoon to boulevard along the banks of the Vltava, to alternate between Pilsner and coffee in the squares of the Old Town and even catch a Vivaldi recital in the Rudolfinum. There was a happy ending to the latter with an ageing soprano emerging from the shadows to sing Un Bel Dio. By late afternoon, though, the heat was oppressive and too much for this Panama-hatted flaneur. I needed somewhere cool and dark where I could dampen my hot brow.
I passed one of the more remarkable of Prague's many gothic churches, all bas-relief in stone, ornamental coving, gargoyles and flying buttresses and I thought to myself that is a wonderful place to to idle away an hour or so in quiet contemplation… as I passed by and walked into the most magnificent strip club just a few doors down. There were a few gargoyles and some buttresses flying in there too and the fierce air-conditioning provided a refreshing antidote to the muggy atmosphere outside.
I conducted some useful research into disposable spending patterns in emerging Europe and was able to add more data to my comprehensive equivalent of the Big Mac index because if there is one commodity which is more universal, more easily comparable and more unvarying than a hamburger then it's what was on offer in this establishment characterised by moral laxity. Purchasing power parity is exemplary in the Czech Republic and arriving at that conclusion through conscientious research was the second happy ending of the afternoon.