Monday, September 21, 2009

Face-to-Face - courtesy of B.A.

I was recently a winner in the British Airways Face of Opportunity Contest, geared towards reminding businesses the value of international business travel. Since I had been notified only two weeks ago, this trip was arranged rather quickly. I had entered via web-based enterpreneur’s information site I use - Startup Nation (

The send off at JFK was by Lord Mayor of London himself – Boris Johnson. 220 entrepreneurial business owners flew to London and points beyond – free, courtesy of British Airways - as part of the airline’s “Face-to-Face” campaign. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London bade the winners of the special flight farewell during an address at JFK International Airport, where he underscored the importance of revitalizing the economy through in-person meetings.
“We strongly believe that face-to-face meetings are crucial for businesses to remain competitive. This campaign represents a commitment to rewarding and stimulating entrepreneurship and bringing relationship-building back to the center of business,” said Simon Talling-Smith, Executive Vice President, Americas, British Airways.
To help reinforce the idea that in-person meetings do drive business, British Airways commissioned a survey of Harvard Business Review readers to gauge perceptions within the international business community about the importance of face-to-face meetings. In a time when business travel has been severely cut, the study aimed to uncover the impact that virtual meetings have had on business growth and relationship building. Results from the survey of over 2,300 Harvard Business Review readers concluded that 95 percent of businesspeople said they believe that face-to-face meetings are key to success in building long term relationships, and 89 percent agree face-to-face meetings are essential for “sealing the deal.”
Meeting at JFK at a champagne reception at 7.30AM on Sept. 15, 220 winning entrepreneurs were treated to a free dedicated daytime flight to London Heathrow (business class), arriving at 10PM BST, and a night’s stay at the premium Sofitel Hotel adjoining Terminal 5. After a gourmet buffet breakfast, we were addressed by the CEO of British Airways Willie Walsh, Lord Digby Jones (UK Trade and Industry Ambassador), and Andrew Sherman (Legal Counsel for the Entrepreneur’s Organization), other B.A. staff and a researcher from Harvard Business Review, speaking on topics ranging from the importance of face-to-face meetings for achieving business success (backed by Harvard research!) to understanding foreign business practices and culture, trends in global business, and legal considerations.

BA had created this contest in a bold investment move at a time when a lot of business travel is being curtailed. It was good to be in an atmosphere of keen innovators, away from the gloom of recession talk. I was able to network with some other small business folks, involved in enterprises as diverse as political lobbying, sign-making, importing UK novelties, exporting gourmet pretzels, organizing volunteer vacations, etc. BA recorded a 5 minute video interview with anyone who wanted to tell their entrepreneurial story, which I did.

At noon, the formal events were over and we were free to go on to any business meetings we had arranged. I took the Heathrow Express train (free ticket provided) to the PLASA Show at Earl’s Court exhibition facility in London (Professional Lighting and Sound - where I successfully met with a potential new company, who described two lines of products available for us to import. These products are being widely and very effectively used in Europe. Also at the show, I saw another company that doesn’t have a USA rep yet. Details later!

On Thursday, after a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, the Managing Director of another British company only 10 minutes from LHR, met with me and we discussed his company’s exciting products in the solar energy arena.

After 2 days, I returned to USA. The face-to-face trip turned out to be very useful: the contacts I’ve made with UKTI may bring even more opportunities; the companies I did meet with have enormous potential, if we can only get visibility for them. This will present a challenge since they are not in our familiar customer base - we will have to go after new markets! But the new potential is very large!