CEO World tour
07 Mar 2012

Now I am not a great traveller, nor a good passenger in a car. The tube makes me want to run for the surface and when it comes to planes, well let’s not go there. I love driving, I have raced boats and maybe if I could fly a plane I would be more comfortable. Perhaps it's a touch of the control freak in me, but when I can't even see who the person is flying the plane and whether or not they look calm and collected, the fear sets in at what I know is an irrational level, but it does nonetheless.

So when the opportunity to run OneSavings Bank and Kent Reliance came up, I had to give myself a good talking to. You see, we have offshore capability in India and therefore a number of times a year I need to visit. Unfortunately the boat takes about six weeks, which is not a time commitment I can make, so flying it is.

Well, Sunday 11th March came around and I drove to Heathrow, with what can only be described as a rather large knot in my stomach. It didn't start well; I handed my car over to the valet parking guys and went to check in. Whilst reading the sign about what to put in the trays for security checking, I realised I’d left my phone in my car, so I returned  to the parking stand for a 20 minute wait for someone to retrieve my phone and then I'm set to go through.

This felt like the right time to take the diazepam my GP had prescribed to keep me feeling calm. It works too; by the time I was wandering through the gate to board the plane I was pretty relaxed.

Take off was the inevitable digging of finger nails into the armrest experience, but soon the seat belt signs were turned off and the Pilot came on the speakers to introduce himself. He sounded calm and collected, a good thing!

Nine and a half hours and three movies later we touched down in Bangalore. I didn't quite do the Pope kissing of the tarmac thing, but was rather pleased to have arrived safe and sound.

Now I also mentioned that I’m not a good passenger in a car. Anyone who has visited India or indeed watched the Top Gear India special will immediately see my next issue. Let's just say the driving in India is somewhat different to the disciplined lane control and traffic signal culture we are used to here in the UK!

There were horns beeping, with trucks, bikes and cars coming at us from all directions. I think I saw more nearmisses during my journey from the airport to the city than I have seen in 25 years of driving here. It was a big relief to arrive at the hotel and begin being transported by my own two feet.

Anyway, the point of my visit - aside from board meetings for our Indian subsidiaries - was to meet our staff out there and get a comprehensive understanding of our operations, whilst also presenting to the staff a vision for the future of the group.

Whilst in India, I found a number of things that really pleased me:

  1. You get used to the traffic, and rather shockingly, driving in the UK seems rather boring when you get back.
  2. Our staff out there care passionately about doing a good job, for both the company and our customers.
  3. The level of education in India puts the UK to shame. In Pune University alone, there are 500,000 degree graduates every year, with close to 3 million nationwide.
  4. The sense of culture in India is wonderful, from office workers to the poorer people on the streets, everyone has a smile on their face, happy to pass the time of day with you. Compare that to rush hour back home...
  5. The food is great, but of course it helps if you enjoy spicy meals. Meat and two veg seem quite bland now.
  6. I can fly. Not literally of course, but I will need to travel to India at least every three months for board meetings and I am already looking forward to my next trip.

Since returning, I have delivered similar presentations to our staff in Kent (who are also fab by the way) and next month I am off to visit our subsidiaries in the Channel Islands.

And will I be flying? No, the planes to Jersey are too small for me; the fast cat from Weymouth will be my chosen chariot!