“Do you have your airline and hotel reservations set up?” my new boss asked.
“Um, what do you mean,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to not sound completely confused.
“We’re going to a big conference your first week and I need you to fly out that Monday. My admin can fill you in on the details and send you your meeting schedule.”
Conferences, field trips, and management meetings are a way of life on the buy side. Luckily, there are some key things to know to keep your sanity amid the rubber chicken lunches. In addition to maintaining your sanity, you never know what doors might open for you on these trips.
It’s time you learned some important travel tips so your actions don’t scream “new guy” while on your first business trip.
Planning Your Travel Arrangements
“Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and they have a thing for slip on shoes. Gotta love 'em.”
As with most things in life, a little advanced planning can make your business trip a lot easier and more efficient.
Starting with the flight details, you will need to pick an airline and sign up for their frequent flyer program. Nobody cares about the frequent flyer miles and the “free” tickets they can buy, but rather the perks that accompany frequent flyer status levels.
Priority access lines at security checkpoints and the right to board the plane first are invaluable little perks that make traveling just a bit easier and faster.
When it comes to hotels, some road warriors like to stick with one loyalty program to earn “free” nights just like frequent flyer miles. Unfortunately, most hotel chains that have loyalty programs suck.
Whether you are on the buy side or the sell side, your typical business trip will be to a major city that likely has independent or boutique hotels that are far superior to the standard Marriott or Hilton.
These days I’ve travelled enough to have my own preferred hotels in the various cities I typically travel to, but I still use TripAdvisor to research hotels. Harness the power of the Internet and do your homework beforehand.
Carry On or Be Left Behind
“Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?”
If you check your baggage prepare to be taunted mercilessly at the baggage carousel, or worse, expect to be left their waiting on your own. You will now have to find your own way to the hotel.
Here is a quick two-step rule to see if it is acceptable to check your baggage:
- Are you traveling with kids?
- Are you travelling for more than one week?
If you answer yes to BOTH of the above, then you can check your baggage. If not, you will carry on. Time is money and your boss doesn’t want you wasting it milling around the baggage carousel.
Or, even worse, what do you do if your luggage is lost by the airline and you have client meetings first thing in the morning? (Answer: Get down on your knees and pray that a suit shop is a) nearby, and b) still open.)
Regarding carry-on luggage, most travelers go with the roll-a-board style. A few years ago I switched to the Red Oxx Air Boss. It comes with a badass name, the coolest warranty in all of retail, and an ability to hold a seemingly infinite amount of clothes. I just call it “the magic bag” now because it just seems to hold anything and everything and it fits in the overhead racks better than any roll-a-board. It's like the clown car of luggage.
The only caveat is that you have to carry the bag. If you’ve never heard of a squat rack or a kettlebell, then revert to the roll-a-board. For the rest of you, think of it as getting an efficient workout on the go.
Arriving at Your Destination
Whenever I arrive at a new destination, I do two things immediately:
- Find the best place to get a drink.
- Find the best place to smoke a cigar.
As the new guy, though, there are some other essentials that should concern you when you land. The booze and smokes will come soon enough, young Skywalker.
First, assuming you arrive at the hotel the day before the conference starts, scout out the conference layout by finding the conference registration desk. Every conference has one and they are usually staffed the day before. There’s no need to spend a lot of time here, just get a feel for the layout so you aren’t wandering around tomorrow looking like a lost puppy.
Second, make sure all of your clothes for the entire trip are hung up and properly pressed. Don’t wait until the morning to do this little task. It may seem trivial, but trust me, it is important. More on why it is important in a minute.
Third, set your alarm and/or arrange your wake up call. If you’re phone is smart enough, pre-set the alarm for each day you are on the road. Again, more on why this is important in a minute.
Fourth, have you seen those breakfast room service door hangers? The ones where you pick what you want for breakfast in the morning, pick a time for breakfast to be delivered to your room, and then you just hang it on the door like a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Fill this out.
All right, now you’re ready for the conference to begin. Go have that drink and cigar now and just chill out for the evening. You don’t need to go crazy the first night. You have work to do tomorrow.
What Really Happens at Conferences
If you’ve never attended a business conference before, your pre-conceived notions of what one looks like probably includes an image of a sea of people lined up at tables staring at PowerPoint presentations.
Of course, those notions are likely correct, but that’s not what you’ll be doing at this conference.
Conferences are for management meetings.
You will be bouncing from suite to suite meeting with management teams. This is your chance to meet with many companies in your coverage universe in an efficient manner.
It also means you need to be prepared by having questions ready to ask of the management teams. Have this done ahead of time and you won’t experience that awkward moment when you are 10 minutes into a 50 minute meeting and you’ve run out of questions to ask.
After you’ve been following a company for a long time, you can usually just walk into the meeting and wing-it because you will have built up a rapport with the management team. But if you are the new guy, or you’re meeting with a new company, then you’d better be prepared.
Doing the Rubber Chicken Dance (Never Stop Networking!)
After your morning management meetings, it’s time for lunch and you face two options:
- Sneak away and find a Chipotle on your own.
- Go to the conference lunch and eat mass-served rubber chicken and listen to a boring speaker.
You will want to do number one, but number two is what you need to do. Yes, the food will suck and so with the speaker, but it’s a great opportunity to network with peers at other firms.
Did you really think networking is over once you land a job?
To help you get through this part, just remember that this type of networking pays dividends later. After a couple of these conferences and other trips you will likely become friends with some of your peers.
This can help when it comes to your exit strategy, but more immediately you can all arrange to have lunch during the next conference at one of the hotel restaurants where you can skip the rubber chicken and order off the real menu.
After lunch, it’s back to meetings. All I can recommend here is to skip dessert at lunch because you’ll be ready to retreat to your room and take a nap. If you find any caffeine nearby, consume it.
After the afternoon meetings are over, but before the dinners begin, there is a golden hour or so of opportunity where you can get away and relax. Some guys take naps, some guys work out, and some guys head straight for the bar. If the conference is at a resort location, I like to sneak away to the golf course and hit some balls on the range. Just unwind and prepare for the evening events.
Next up come the dinners, be it a conference dinner with a speaker (yep, just like lunch), dinners with management teams, or dinners arranged by sell side teams.
In order of preference, the sell side dinners will always come first. Salespeople at sell side shops get paid to provide business entertainment so they are always interested in having a good time. Some management teams are fun to hang out with, but this will take some time to know who is fun and who to avoid. Some management teams are more boring than the conference speakers.
As you can probably guess, the conference dinner is your worst option. Unfortunately, though, you need to do something since sitting back in your room and ordering room service is not an option.
Remember: Networking never stops.
After dinner most people head back to their rooms, but not you. At this point in the day you find out who are the fun buy-siders and sell-siders as they are all congregating at the hotel bar or a bar nearby. Keep your ears up and you’ll hear where everyone is going.
Call it the “after party.” Some things from college never change, only now you are drinking higher quality drinks and wearing better clothes. Have a good time and relax, but keep your ears listening. This time of the night is generally the best time to get all the gossip on peers and other shops. You never know when you might hear about that perfect exit opportunity.
Of course, don’t have too good of a time. Just in case, this is why you already prepared your clothes, set your alarm, and pre-arranged breakfast for tomorrow. Learn from me and others before you to avoid the cruel reality of spending too much time at the hotel bar and forgetting to set your alarm or arrange breakfast.
You still have a job to do tomorrow.
Want to Travel Again? Do This.
Business trips can be painful affairs, but they can also be great networking opportunities. (Tip: Working an Excel financial model in your cubicle is not networking.) Heck, you might even have a little fun if you hang out with the right people.
But always remember that your boss will be approving your expense reports. So, if you want to travel again you need to prove the trip added value.
Be sure to bring home some new investment ideas, or at least ideas to further investigate. You will impress your boss and get the green light to travel again in the future.
You never know what might happen on your next trip …