Sunday, December 5, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time

This is one of those situations where you are going to say, “What were you thinking?” and “If this guy did something this stupid, why would he think his advice is worth anything?” 

Having said that, I am going to tell you what I did today anyway.

I booked a 1:30 PM flight to Austin about a week ago. I have a client down there who wants me to meet with her after business hours, so a 2:30 PM arrival seemed just about right. My trusty car of 15 years finally gave up the ghost, so we are down by one car. Not a problem since my wife does not work....until this week when she landed a new job which started today.  My son graciously offered to run me over to the airport in his car before he headed to class. It would get me to the airport several hours early, but I had no other good options, short of paying $30 for a share ride shuttle. I would rather sit in the Admiral's Club for an extra couple of hours and get some work done. Airfare and rental car are being covered by the client, but no other travel expenses.

As things happen, when dealing with early morning routines, we got out of the house just a few minutes late. With capricious road construction in the area, time was quickly running out and my son started worrying about making it to class on time.  The last thing I want to do is to show my freshman son that the world will not come to an end if he is late to class. Fortunately, I'd sized up the situation early and had put a change of clothes in my carry-on and wore “sensible” shoes. As we got closer to the airport, and the clock ticked past the time he needed to turn the car around and head up to Denton, I asked him to drop me off at the gas station just north of the airport. I calculated that a 30 minute walk would take me to the North Remote Parking where I could catch the shuttle to my terminal.

Ah...the best laid plans....

James Snider is an global marketing professional with 16 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He is currently working as a consultant.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time...part 2

Everything was going along pretty well except for the fact that my carry-on was a little heavier than I really wanted to carry for 30 minutes. I saw the road to the airport making a large curve and it seemed to me that I could shave off a few minutes if I simply cut across the open field (the shortest distance between two points).  That became problematic as the weeds were about a foot high and the ground was fairly soft; making for tough hiking. Still, huffing and puffing, I was getting closer.

I heard a shout off to my left, but paid little attention. There is construction in the area. Some distant shouting is to be expected. But I heard it again...and then again. I turned and saw a very large airport policeman working his way across the soft field in my direction. I decided that there was little to be gained by not meeting him halfway, so I headed in his direction. He, of course, stopped and waited for on I went with my carry-on getting heavier all the time.

Once I reached him, he informed me that there had been a call about a suspicious person walking close to the runway. I confirmed that I was the only suspicious person I'd seen but had gone no closer to the runway that where I was when he stopped me. I then gave him the short version of my story.

He asked for ID, called it in, wanted my flight information and then wanted a quick look at the contents of my carry-on. A second airport policeman (actually a woman...but police person sounds too PC) showed up and they both looked at me very sternly. I remained affable (although I consider airport police to be a small step up from a security guard, I am sure they have the authority to cause me a lot of trouble, particularly in the current elevated state of security). I chatted a bit while the second officer did something with my ID but the first officer was not particularly interested in small talk. He wanted me to understand that no one ever walks to the airport. They always “arrive in some sort of vehicle.” That is always going to raise some suspicion; walking to the airport. I could have ameliorated the situation a bit if I'd simply stuck to the road. Walking across the field in the general direction of the runway was not a good idea. He understood my basic algebra about the shortest distance...he still recommended that I stick to the road if I ever decided to walk to the airport in the future.

But the fun part was still to come.

James Snider is an global marketing professional with 16 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He is currently working as a consultant.

Friday, December 3, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time...part 3

Once he satisfied himself that I was guilty of nothing more than foolishness,  he offered to give me a ride to the North Remote Parking “or you can continue walking.” Now, it was only a block and a half to remote parking....but why would I not take the ride? I had broken a decent sweat and my arms were feeling tight from carrying the carry-on. I was having no fun walking so I accepted the ride. That is when I found out why I might have preferred to have walked the rest of the way. 

This officer showed his police training by describing to me exactly what was going to happen before he did anything. It really seems like a tedious exercise, “Sir, please put your bag down behind the car and step back. I am now going to open the trunk of the cruiser from inside the cab. Leave your bag on the ground. Now I am going to put your bag in the trunk....”

Then he informed me that he needed to check me for weapons before he allowed me to enter the cruiser. He asked me if I had any weapons. Then he informed me that he was going to give me a pat-down. Standing beside a busy road headed into the airport, I had to assume the position and get a pat-down. He only showed a slight sign of humor when I stated, about halfway through the pat-down, that this would probably not be the only time I got patted-down that day.

He then took me through the step-by-step instructions on how he was going to open the back door of the cruiser and that I should get in and would be required to put on the seat belt. I guess I should have seen that coming. I was going to be behind the Plexiglas in the backseat like a vagrant or public drunk or something. The pat-down was not pleasant and was a little bit embarrassing....but embarrassment was building. 

The seats were very high up and made of some sort of formed plastic like a cheap... I don't know what. I have never seen anything like it. I asked the officer about the seat when he finally got into the front seat (the passenger side was full of all sorts of I guess it was nothing against me, there was simply no room for me in the passenger seat up front). He responded (with some humor) that they were not built for comfort but he said nothing more about it.

Now he engaged me in small talk. He asked why I was traveling and what my line of work is...maybe still looking for inconsistencies that might cause me to spend a few hours in a cell being crossed examined, but I took it as a friendly gesture. When we arrived at North Remote Parking, he had to let me out of the back seat where I was met with the curious and appraising scrutiny of the crowd waiting for the shuttle. They were expecting a vagrant or public drunk. A look of slight suspicion lingered on their faces despite the fact that the officer was letting me out of the backseat and pulled my luggage out of the trunk for me. I was being treated with respect....but still....they were wondering.

So what I did learn from this? I think that is pretty obvious....

Humility is an important lesson to learn but not a lesson I want to repeat often.

James Snider is an global marketing professional with 16 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He is currently working as a consultant.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When in Rome, Shanghai, Tokyo...

In keeping with my last blog, here are some more tips on "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."  

I try to fit in whenever I travel.  Obviously, when I am in Japan, I can never look Japanese, but I can look like I know the ropes.  Learn some words in Japanese. Prepare for taxi drivers who do not speak English.  Moderate your speaking style to be more consistent  with those with whom you are talking. Walk on the correct side of the sidewalk (not always on the right.) Look both ways when crossing the street...that is something your mother always told you, but when you are in another country, it is particularly important because driving styles and rules of engagement are very different in other places.  

I recall one time when I was crossing the street in Shanghai.  The "Walk" light was indicating it was safe to cross.  I was almost to the other side when the light changed to "Don't Walk."  I'd seen a bus in the distance, but by my calculations, I would be out of the intersection before it would even get close to me.  I heard the sound of heavy and rapid footsteps behind me, only to be passed by my business associate who was only two steps behind me.  He was in a dead gallop and grabbed my shirt as he passed by.  The bus, which had been nearly a half block away, was traveling at an outrageous speed and was timing it to hit the intersection just as soon as the light turned green...leaving no margin for error.  Any slow pedestrian was going to be a fatality.  I was expecting the bus driver to show some caution, similar to bus drivers in the USA.  Not this guy.  He was focused on speed, not safety and it was up to anyone in the street to stay out of his way.

Another example comes to mind which deals more with business etiquette than with safety.  I had a boss one time who tended to wear sunglasses every time he stepped outside.  This is not the norm in the USA, but not totally unusual.  When he traveled to Japan, he noticed that the Japanese salesmen were suppressing laughter each time he put on his sunglasses.  After a few incidents, he asked the most "American" of the Japanese salesmen about it.  He was told that in Japan, no one wears sunglasses on the street.  They only wear sunglasses under certain conditions, such as when they go to the beach.  Each time he put on his sunglasses on city streets, the Japanese found it to be hilarious.  This was all good clean fun until they approached the office building where they were to meet with an important customer.  At this point, one of the Japanese salesmen turned to by boss and said, "Larry-san, please remove the makes you a stranger."

If he'd been thinking about it, he would have realized that anything that made him standout as different should have been minimized when doing business in another culture.  Keep your eyes open and follow the lead of those who live in the culture you are visiting. 

James Snider is an global marketing professional with 15 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He is currently working as a consultant while looking for the next great thing and earning inbound marketing certification.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sometimes it is best to keep a low profile

Anyone who travels overseas has to be aware of the fact that Americans are not always popular.  I was astonished in Berlin a few years ago when a young man went way out of his way to help me when I became only slightly turned around in a large shopping mall.  I simply assumed that he was a scam artist or pick-pocket, so I gave him a cursory "thank you" and quickly headed off in a different direction, trying to look like I knew exactly where I was going.  I learned later from a Berlin resident that there is a sense of gratitude towards Americans dating back to the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s.  This is not the case in other areas of the world.   

Particularly during the terms of our 43rd President, I sensed some negative reaction when people learned that I was from Texas.  Even the Japanese, who are known for their meticulously good manners, would ask me what I thought about our President.  I had to carefully craft my response.  I will never forget arriving in Narita airport and looking out the window of the taxiing aircraft, seeing a bed sheet affixed to one of the buildings just outside the airport property with block letters saying, "PRAY GOD STOPS BUSH'S WAR."

Sometimes you may be compelled to be a little subtle about your citizenship.  I do  not advocate going to extremes as Lisa Simpson did in Italy when she pretended to be Canadian.  However, you should not  make the mistake that Homer did in loudly professing his American loyalty.  I have seen seasoned business travelers who put American flags on their suitcases, computer bags, etc.  That seems imprudent to me...but honestly, I have seen these same "seasoned business travelers" complain loudly that the air conditioning was not cold enough or that they needed a menu in English or that the taxi driver did not understand the words "Hilton Hotel."

When overseas, I do a few things to keep my profile low. I learn a few words such as "Hello, Thank You, Good-Bye."  When I need to get to a location multiple times (such as my hotel), I print off the web page in the local language or get the concierge at the hotel to give me the name written in the local language.  There are a few tips you can pick up along the way.  For example, one of my friends lived in Tokyo and told me that I will rarely get a taxi driver who understands the words "Hilton Hotel" no matter how loudly or slowly I repeat it.  However, the words "Hee-Loo-Tone Hotel-oo" works every does.  A few years ago, I was attending a conference at the Opera City building in Tokyo.  "Opera City" does not work.  When I started saying "Oprah City," the taxi driver took me there with no problem.

When I go to a store in almost any country, I find the screen on the cash register which will show me the amount due and therefore do not require the cashier to tell me in English.  I can pay them, say "Thank you" in their language and they simply assume I understand some of their language.  It makes me look like less of a fish out of water.  Don't set yourself up to look helpless.  That is good advice anywhere, but particularly when visiting a city far away from home. 

And finally, read-up a little on the culture and on what is standard.  The Internet is a wonderful thing.  Learn about bowing in Japan and gift giving.  Talk to other people who have travelled to Taiwan to find out if it is reasonable to pay $45 for a car from the airport.  I paid $15 for a taxi from Beijing Airport to the hotel, but on my return trip, my Chinese friend only paid $7.  I got ripped off!  Learn about tipping.  You can not force a bellman to take a tip in Japan, but just about everywhere else, they expect a tip from an American.  Don't tip 15% for a meal in Germany.  It makes the locals mad because they only tip a "pocket change".  They say that we Americans make them look bad.  

James Snider is an global marketing professional with 15 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He is currently working as a consultant while looking for the next great thing and earning inbound marketing certification.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The "mileage run"

I have a friend who is a big time international salesman.  He normally carries a balance of over a million frequent flier miles.  Yesterday, he send me an email from Frankfurt telling me about something he'd never encountered.  While at the Admiral's Club in Frankfurt, he ran into five people from Dallas who were doing a "mileage run."  These five people flew into Frankfurt from Dallas, did an over night at a hotel near the airport and flew back the next day.  The goal was simply to rack up frequent flier miles so they could reach Executive Platinum status sooner.  This group was willing to spend $450 to make an unnecessary trip in coach simply to increase their frequent flier status. 

A few years ago, when I needed one more trip at the end of the year to maintain my Executive Platinum status, I considered doing something similar myself.  However, good sense kicked in.  The group I am talking about is flying on their own money in mid-January!  And, according to my friend, they will do it several more times...and he thinks it is a GREAT idea!

According to the thinking, for around $4500, a person can rack up 100,000 miles quickly and then reap the benefits of this advanced status for the remainder of the year. They will get several system wide upgrades which means they can fly in Business Class with the price of a coach ticket.  They will get more frequent flier miles for every trip plus priority service.  They will be automatically upgraded to first class on domestic flights and gain some additional access to airport clubs.

Still, they are flying around 10 trips that they are paying for coach...and not lingering long enough to really enjoy the benefit of being there.

I still do not get it.  It must be the thrill of the adventure...doing a crazy thing with your buddies, all jam packed in coach, hitting a hotel, drinking a few German beers, crashing and flying back home for a day then repeating.  Like running a marathon or something.  Then, when it is time to take a serious business trip, you have all the advantages of your status to smooth the trip for you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Dress for an International Flight

Back in the old days, people would dress up for a flight. Traveling by air was novel and expensive. With the entry of Southwest Airlines (the Greyhound of the Sky), all that went out the window. Today, walking through the airport, you see all manner of super casual attire.

I recall, on my first international business trip, I ran into one of our engineers at the airport. He and I were flying to Tokyo to attend the same meeting. I was dressed in Dockers with a button-down shirt (trying to look like an international marketing guy). He, on the other hand, was dressed in nylon shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. He looked as if he were about to run a marathon, so I asked him if he was headed someplace to workout. I was assuming that he was a big international traveler and knew the in, maybe there was a gym at the airport that I knew nothing about. He responded (with a hint of defensiveness) that he was about to take a long flight and wanted to be comfortable. "Comfortable?" I thought. "You are almost naked. We are flying in business class. We are going to spend the next 12 hours in a BarcaLounger. How comfortable do you have to be?"

Once we got on the plane, my greatest problem was staying warm. My Dockers and loose cotton shirt where plenty comfortable enough. Of course, I still see Japanese businessmen in a full suit; never even loosening their tie during the 12 hour trip. I guess it is what you are used to. If I am comfortable enough to wear something for 9 hours in the office, then I am comfortable enough on a 10 - 12 flight. You do not have to go to extremes.

Here is my advice, "Don't worry about it." Wear something you would not mind wearing around the house all day. If it is uncomfortable to wear at home, do not wear it on the plane. If you are inclined to get a little cold, bring a sweater and wear long sleeves. Keep your shoes on if you can. Your feet are going to swell and your shoes are going to be hard to get back on at the end of the flight. However, if your feet start to hurt, take your shoes off. Don't suffer the whole flight with aching feet. Just leave yourself a little time to shove your fat feet in your shoes before the plane starts to empty out.

One more comment concerning your shoes. Since 2001 when Richard Reid tried to blow up an American Airlines flight with a shoe bomb, passengers have been required to remove their shoes and have them X-rayed when passing through security. I have seen various road warriors scoff at passengers who wear shoes that must be tied when going through security. The thinking is you are going to have to untie your shoes, run them through the scanner then put them back on your feet and retie them. These road warriors feel like this inconvenience can be avoided by wearing loafers. That is fine if you are not traveling for business, but I need real shoes to wear with my suit. As far as I am concerned, you go through a little bit of inconvenience at the airport by wearing lace-up shoes, but then you have the shoes you really need for the rest of the trip. I think the whole shoe issue is a pretty minor inconvenience compared to all the other things I have to do (put my liquids in a quart bag, pull my notebook computer out of the bag, leave my pocket knife and scissors at home, have my bag re-X-rayed if I fail to empty out other assorted electronics that capture the attention of the screener, etc.) Besides, on an international flight, I find that lace-up shoes are easier to stuff my fat feet into when I arrive at my destination.

Once you are in the airport, take the stairs if you can instead of using the escalator. It will help to move the blood out of your feet and back into the rest of your body.

But here is my best tip. If you are traveling on business, have a clean shirt and a sports coat handy. Brush your teeth, shave, and put on a fresh shirt about an hour before you land. Then wear the sports coat through customs. If you indicate on your emigration form that you were overseas on business, the customs agent will tend to leave you alone. Especially if you look like an experienced business traveler. Customs will usually wave you on and not waste time digging through you bags. Of course, having about a dozen pages stamped in your passport further convinces the customs agent that you are an international business traveler.

However, if you are traveling with family, I have no advice for you other than to get your paperwork in order, be efficient and alert, and maintain a reserved but friendly and polite attitude. Chances are you will make it through with no issues.

James Snider is an international marketing professional with 15 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He was the industry lead for global FireWire marketing at Texas Instruments, Philips Semiconductor (now NXP) and the 1394 Trade Association.
Snider is actively searching for the next great thing to market into a worldwide success. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

How to Pack

I am sorry. I can not advise you on how to pack efficiently. I tend to carry too much stuff with me, never sure how much time I may have to read, work, or catch up on things while I am on the road. I normally have very little time for anything other than customer meetings and keeping current on email.

I also normally take too many clothes. I was scheduled to travel to California on September 12, 2001...the day after 9/11. A week later, I was on a nearly empty flight to California after talking to a couple of guys who'd been stuck in some distant location, unable to get home. Since that time, I have made it a personal policy to take an extra change of clothes, just in case I end up staying an extra day or two. It is not a bad policy anyway. Chances are, you will eventually miss a flight or get caught in a rain storm and need the extra clothes.

As for me, I can not criticize anyone who fails to pack light. I am as bad as anyone. This is a problem since I hate to check bags. I hate to wait for 30 minutes at a carrousel with nothing coming off of it and I hate to see my $400 suitcase get torn to bits by baggage handlers who seem to go out of their way to destroy them.

I am a bad example to follow when it comes to packing.

James Snider is an international marketing professional with 15 years experience in the semiconductor and high-tech industry. He was the industry lead for global FireWire marketing at Texas Instruments, Philips Semiconductor (now NXP) and the 1394 Trade Association.
Snider is actively searching for the next great thing to market into a worldwide success.