Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Traveling - best life ever?

A commonly heard phrase - getting to travel on business is fun! Or not? Probably only the uninitiated would agree that business travel (at least in an investment banking context) is fun. See the sights, dine on the Company's dime, jet-setter, real go-getter aye? I don't think so... let's set the record straight.

Traveling for business is not the same as traveling for leisure, the kind that enables you to act as a flaneur in a foreign land, or as a caged up consumer riding in a human transport, stopping along the way to purchase souvenirs and gorge yourself silly as typical tourists.

My kind of business travel under normal circumstances means "day trip". The type where you wake up at 0500, generally after leaving the office at 0100 the night before trying to rush mostly unnecessary prep work for your meeting, in order to catch the 0700 flight to a neighboring country, try to stuff your hand-carry luggage together with your roll-on into the cabin space, squeeze up in economy class, try to get a few winks before some baby starts screaming like there's no tomorrow, disembark speedily and try to beat the crowd at immigration, jump into a taxi to a smorgasbord of client meetings, hope that it does not over-run and try to make it make to the airport to catch your last flight home. In between you hope nothing else on your other transactions blow up, else that means cranking shit out on your laptop whilst your taxi is gyrating in and out of traffic, or even worse, having to head back to the office after you land at 2300 or so (as an Analyst that's pretty much the norm, but when you get to the Associate level and above, there's a secret button called "forward" that allows you to get out of these situations, unless your junior bankers are neck deep in shit and you've got to embrace the suck to get ingrained into some of the details).

In between client meetings, you'll be lucky to sneak in a bite or a coffee at the local Starbucks or Au Bon Pain (pun intended), having awkward conversations that includes subjects such as what's the latest gossip in the office with your senior bankers, which you can't really share because that latest gossip or might I say bitching generally revolves around them. Probably the only sights you get to take in are those from the back of your taxi and of the airport. But hey soon you'll gather enough experience to become an airport, local Starbucks expert and regional flights schedule expert.

So that pretty much sums up day trips, an event that encompasses almost 70-80% of all traveling done in investment banking. My favorite route would be the 0710 Singapore Airlines flight to BKK and the most hated one would be the 0710 to KL, for the reason that you rarely get to experience some shut eye given the short amount of cruising time.

Sometimes you "luck out" and get to go for a roadshow, which encompasses a week or two of meetings all across the globe. Depending on whether that is a Regulation S / 144 A transaction (basically rules that allow you to sell securities in the UK / USA), you'll get to experience London and the USA for a while. But at the very least  ultimate training in service standards if you're junior banker, so much so it'll encourage the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel to greet you with a curtsy in recognition of your professionalism. You'll be in charge of ensuring seamless logistics (from arranging transportation, printing of books/meeting materials, making sure hotels are all sorted out), taking care of after meeting dining and entertainment, and being a grade A nanny to your clients, ensuring that the entourage is up and ready for the next day's meetings with potential investors after a big night out and reeking of alcohol.

Most times you'll have a roadshow coordinator who's based out of your home office making travel arrangements in advance, but they work normal hours. Thus anything before 0900 and 1800, you'll be the onsite travel agent. You'll be so good at coordinating last minute changes to travel arrangements from your blackberry earpiece that you'll ought to add that job to your your ever growing resume in lateral skills. Because any fuck ups, it's your head. So better make sure you've got a few readily charged spare blackberry batteries so you'll always have juice.

And oh yeah, don't forget the work that is piling up on other transactions whilst you're traipsing the globe. Hey, but roadshow traveling is done mostly on business class, so at least you have some space to work on your laptop when the shenanigans take a break as you jet across the Atlantic.

Roadshows comprise 10 - 20% of the business travel I've done. The remainder? Those are the good times junior bankers live for. When things go quiet during the December holidays or the summer holidays where you have to attend a simple due diligence meetings overseas with an amicable Associate or senior banker you think you can click with, if time permits, you can have some really good times at dinner, airport lounges or bars downing drinks and building connections that will withstand the test of time in the future. I've had a chance to make some really good friends as a result of the shit that we've gone through and experiences we've shared. And sometimes you might even get a chance to fly for closing dinners, some of which would make your local compliance departments blush. But let's not venture into that realm too much, because these awesome opportunities are generally few and far in between.

So do you still dig business travel?

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