On Monday, March 5, I was back into the sky for the first European trip of 2012, to England and France. The nonstop was full, so I flew up to O’Hare, then to Heathrow. Took advantage of a posh arrivals lounge for a shower, breakfast, and a bit of e-mailing, then hopped on the Tube into London, cueing (as I often do) 20 Beatles tunes. Got off and walked a block to the St. Pancras railway station, terminus for Eurostar. That was my ride to France in two days, and I wanted to collect my ticket in advance. Check and done. I was mere blocks from my UK barbers, Peter and Tony, and needed a trim, so I ambled up Caledonian Road. A rather fancy hair salon stood where their simple barber shop had been. I had not been there for a little over a year, so I walked another block, thinking I had the wrong location. Nope. So I asked the Pakistani shopkeeper next door, and he said the rent had gotten too high, and my Greek Cypriot friends elected to retire. Bummer!
Next stop was the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency a mile southwest, to meet Fabio Scappaticci, a Cambridge MBA student I met in 2011; he’s a great young fellow, and we’ve kept in touch. His training was in aeronautical engineering, so the move into the ad world was totally different – and one that I encouraged. To my delight, he’s super happy in the new post. Even better, he and his wife become parents in July. We had a great yak over soup and sandwich. He showed me around the agency (greeting Jane and Tim, Cambridge students from previous years), and I peeled off, back to the Tube and to my modest Holiday Inn Express digs in the Golders Green neighborhood of north London. Dropped my stuff, back into central London, then onto a train out to Hemel Hempstead, about 30 miles northwest. Whew, a lot of movement.
At 4:25, I met my Intelligent Avionics boss, Martin Cunnison. We motored to his house and caught up on business – face to face is much better than Skype. Covered some ground. At home, we collected wife Tara and twin daughters Beatrice and Henrietta (who had just turned four), drove into Milton Keynes, and had a noisy and fun dinner at an Italian place. They dropped me at the station, hopped on the 8:09 back to London, then tube and bus, and finally was in my pajamas at ten. A busy and good first day.
Up early Wednesday, worked a bit, then out the door around nine, to miss rush hour. Arrived London Business School an hour before I was due, and worked my e-mail on their fast and good wi-fi connection (my hotel connection was intermittent and slow, which really made me cranky). At 11 I met my host, MBA student Joyce Tan, and delivered the talk on airline loyalty programs to an engaged audience of about 50. Good questions at the end, and a half-dozen students came to talk more after class.
I was running out of time, so I invited a student, Erik from Vienna (he was actually a Russian Jew, whose parents emigrated before the end of the Cold War), to ask some questions while walking back to the Tube. He was a seriously bright and entrepreneurial fellow, and it was a fun walk. Hopped the Tube to Leicester Square, walked a few blocks to Rules, which bills itself as London’s oldest restaurant (1798) for an annual March tradition, lunch with my dear friend David Holmes, who ended a long transport career with a decade at British Airways. Lunch lasted nearly 150 minutes, and we covered the conversational waterfront. The airline business, a little politics, sure, but in the other direction to pre-Socratic philosophers – Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and others. I knew nothing of them (save for Mr. P’s theorem!), and David knew a lot. These were guys who inquired not about good and evil, but about how things worked. Who held up the world? They didn’t think it was a god, and they were right. It was so good to spend time with someone smart, and very well read. In between, we tucked into venison hotpot (Rules has its own estate where they raise deer, cattle, and more) and pickled red cabbage, with a couple of glasses of Côte du Rhone.
David was also headed for the Tube, so we walked through Covent Garden, then on the Piccadilly Line. I said goodbye and peeled off at Kings Cross, then onto the train north to Cambridge. I arrived just before six. It had cleared, and dusk was cool and crisp, perfect for a mile walk to my digs. For some reason, perhaps because it was just one night, my new host had booked me in a small hotel near the business school, rather than my customary billet, Sidney Sussex College. First impressions were not positive. The clerk was indifferent, the room dimensions suitable for an elf, wi-fi not free. Wedged myself onto a stool in front of a tiny desk, opened my PC, and stumbled onto free wi-fi (I suspect from the pub next door!). When you’re connected, things get better, and I worked through e-mail, pausing to admire a cute picture of granddaughter Dylan at pre-school, wearing a special fourth birthday crown. Work completed, I repaired to “my local,” the Eagle pub on Bene’t Street, established 1525. Had a pint, finished reading the paper on my iPhone. Walked a couple of blocks to Dojo, an Asian noodle bar, for a plate of tofu pad thai and a nice conversation with Simon and Sonia, visiting students from Munich and the Tyrol. Ambled back to the hotel and slept hard.
Up before sunrise Thursday morning, a bit more work, breakfast, then over to Judge Business School. First business was a swell hour spent with Jochen Menges (described in a December 2011 post), a young faculty member. From 10 to 12, I delivered a talk on airline marketing to Prof. Vincent Mak’s master’s in management class. We had a small reception, then off to lunch next door at Brown’s with two other colleagues. Had a nice plate of fish, then zipped off to catch the 2:15 train back to London. Too short a visit to my favorite college town.
Arrived London a bit after three. I was due to meet my London School of Economics host Geoffrey Owen at 3:30, but my work did not begin until 5, so I opted to be a little late and tend my e-mail at a Starbucks, because I was expecting some important stuff. Met Sir Geoffrey and yakked until the beginning of the student case presentation on American Airlines, which I was to assess – it was my fifth or sixth experience with the project, and this one was by far the best. Students did quite a lot of research and work. After effusive praise and a few small criticisms (and a requested photo with the team), I peeled out at 6:20, and trotted a few blocks to the Tube, which was having some security issues that slowed things down. But I wedged myself in the last possible space on the second train through, rode two stops to St. Pancras, and dashed for the Eurostar to France. It was hurry up and wait, because the 7:04 train was about 10 minutes late, but I was glad to get on.
Zipped across southeast England and under the channel, and was in Lille, north of Paris and close to the Belgian border, at 9:35. Made my way to the Green Line tram and east 20 minutes to the pleasant suburb of Croix and the EDHEC Business School. They had their own small hotel on the new, purpose-built campus. Nice!
Friday morning I met my host, Joëlle Vanhamme, who I first met at Rotterdam School of Management. She moved to EDHEC in 2009. We had a coffee and yakked a bit about the school, a private institution. From 9:20 to 12:30 I delivered two back to back talks, ate a quick lunch, and did another three hours in the afternoon, after which I was plumb wore out. Grabbed a quick nap, did a couple of hours of AURA work, and took the tram back into central Lille. I intended to track down a more local bistro, but opted for Les Trois Brasseurs, a chain of brewpubs with great beer and serviceable food. Had a sort of sampler platter and a couple of dark beers, took the tram back, and clocked out.
Up Saturday morning, a bit of work, then back to town for a very brief look-see in daylight. Central Lille was a curious mix of traditional and modern urbanscapes. Bought Dylan and Carson a postcard and hopped on the TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse, the speedy train) to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. In no time we were rolling at 180 mph, very cool. And we were at the airport in about an hour. Walked to terminal 2A, checked in, and hopped on the Silver Bird to go home. I was happy to be on board. It was a pleasant flight, aided by an agreeable seatmate, Scott, and a chance to watch three movies, which was a volume record for me. Landed in pouring rain, a welcome site after a year of drought.