The secrets of one manager constantly on the move

We interviewed frequent business traveller Markus Keller about what his typical day looks like and how he overcomes this challenge to stay productive

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Mr Keller, please tell us a bit about yourself and explain the challenge that business travel poses.

I am head of the Global Sales Organisation for Accor. As part of my role, I manage the sales representatives and business leaders in Paris, as well as those in our 47 sales offices globally. I also have teams that are responsible for sales performance and sales culture around the world. This is why I travel a lot. From a professional and managerial point of view, you inevitably run the risk of the team slowing down their pace, if they wait for you to be there in person before proceeding. This is why we try to use media like Skype, WeChat, LinkedIn and other tools like these as much as possible to replace face-to-face meetings. Looking at this from a human perspective too, it is crucial for me to keep in 'real' contact with my teams and to discuss and exchange ideas around the coffee machine. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to replace this experience at a distance.  

What do you do to ensure that you can see your teams regularly?

We have 47 sales offices, so it would be a stretch to be able to visit all of them just as regularly. I do, though call on the European sales offices very often. As for the rest of the world, I travel just as frequently to the United States (four or five times a year), and twice a year to Asia, but I don't go to Africa or the Middle East often at all. We keep in touch regularly over the phone. My teams are very independent and don't need guidance on a daily basis, but I make it a point of always being there if they have any questions or if they need support. I arrange regular calls with them to follow up on the progress of various projects and to keep them in the loop of what's going on in the company. I try as much as possible to arrange one-on-one time with my team members. This is an opportunity for exchange that I value very highly. 

What qualities do you need to have to be able to work effectively while travelling?

Apart from being organised, which goes without saying, I think you need to be flexible and be able to adapt quickly. For instance, going from the United States to Singapore can be quite a challenge because of the different time zones. Cultural diversity also makes up part of our identity. So you need to constantly adapt to new situations. 

Do you do anything in particular on the journey itself?

I have set myself some ground rules that I try to stick to: no WiFi and no work. But apart from that, I apply these basic principles wherever I can: 
  • Sleep is golden : a good night's sleep is essential for me 
  • Adjust your body clock to the time zone of your destination as soon as you board the plane, and the same goes for when you arrive, to prepare for the return journey. 
  • Eat well but don't overeat. Ideally, you should try to exercise, but I can't usually find the time or the motivation. 
Professionally speaking, you should always keep in mind that work carries on in your office while you're away. It is important to carve out time, even if it's just one hour a day, to handle ongoing projects, and to make calls. 

What advice would you give to someone who has to travel a lot?

One aspect about travelling that is often underestimated is the impact that it can have on your personal life. If you have a family, you have to prioritise this. I always spend some time at home before going on a trip or as soon as I get back. Whenever possible, I avoid travelling on weekends. I have very little time to myself. In fact, the only time when this is the case is when I’m on the plane. So, I use this time to relax, eat and take a break to watch a film. For others, this ‘me time’ might look more like going for a run or doing something else, but for me it's the plane journey. I think we all need some time and space to take a breather to be able to stay productive. 

How do you stay focused and productive when you have to travel in the early hours?

I get organised ahead of time. I ask for a brief so that I can prepare the day before. The other priority that is an absolute must for me is rest, and to be able to stay healthy by getting some fresh air to clear my head and get my thoughts together. My last tip: travel light and take advantage of anything that can help your trip go smoother, be it a loyalty programme, a fast track option, or a pass. If you have access to any of these, use them!

Published by Magali on 20/06/2018 Photo credit: © Accor

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