A YANK IN LONDON
AN AMERICAN BUSINESS TRAVELER’S ADVICE ON WHERE TO STAY, WHAT TO SEE AND HOW TO ACT WHEN DOING BUSINESS IN JOLLY OL’ LONDON.
I’ve been asked to leave some of the best hotels. The first occasion was in my college days when an upperclassman in our group, having had too many rum drinks, decided to go for a swim—fully dressed in coat and tie—in the indoor fountain of the Tonga Room at San Francisco’s tony Fairmont Hotel. That was during the USC–Stanford football weekender back in 1977. Anybody looking like a fraternity kid was 86ed from the place. I think I was 19.
I tested the Fairmont’s pronouncement a few years ago when I walked into the Tonga Room for the first time in 34 years. I looked around, nodded at the maître d’… and nobody asked me to leave. As an aside, we have the U.S. Navy to thank for the term 86ed. A great number of ships were mothballed at the end of WWII, and as supply clerks began clearing out warehouses of spare parts for those ships, anything not needed was designated by the uniform spare part number “AT-6” and discarded in the dumpster. If you say it fast enough, you’ll see how the term 86ed came into existence.
More recently I was asked to leave the London Ritz Carlton, although for a much less dramatic reason. I was wearing jeans in its venerable lobby. I get that. I probably could have gotten away with the jeans had I been wearing a pair of Cole Haans instead of tennis shoes. But I like the fact that they have a dress code. My bad.
The fact is, no city reveres its hotels more than London. And per district, no city has more hotels either. It was the greatest business capital in the world and for many reasons can still make this claim. Anyone doing business globally will sooner or later spend a few nights in London. Here’s a quick rundown of our picks:
FOR SHEER OPULENCE
The Mandarin Oriental. Surely the Mandarin London is even more of, well, everything, than its flagship and sister property, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. Its great location next to Hyde Park, the Victoria and Albert Museum make it a “must stay” at some point in your career. The service is legendary—as in a butler on every floor just in case you need your toast warmed. Its Mandarin Bar is where old money meets euro jetsetters, and it’s definitely a scene.
FOR AULD LANG SYNE
The Savoy. It’s just been remodeled, and if you bring your signifcant other along on your trip he or she will love the afternoon tea. First opened in 1889, there is lots of history here. Fred Astaire has danced on its roof, and John Wayne stayed there along with Marilyn Monroe when filming The Prince and the Showgirl back in the 1950’s. The Savoy is back and looking grander than ever. Great location right on the Thames and still a favorite with London’s elite.
FOR GOOD VALUE AND FUN LOCATION
The Pelham. As with many London hotels, the rooms can be on the small side. This hotel has two types: “way too small” and “decent-sized.” Be sure to ask for a “decent-sized” room and you will enjoy this quaint neighborhood hotel. Just a few minutes’ walk around the corner is the Mango Tree, which for gourmet cuisine and ambience is the best Thai restaurant in the world. Trust me on this with your most important client.
If you want to kill a few hours in between meetings, here are three “can’t-miss” experiences.
THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
Forget the London Museum, it’s too much of too much. The V&A is where you want to go to. Here you’ll find a lot more British and royal artifacts that entertain rather than overwhelm. The British Galleries are devoted to British art and design from 1500 to 1900. If it’s London history you’re after, this is the right place. You can spend a few hours or a few days, but either will be time well invested.
This bunker-like labyrinth of offices is exactly as it was on the last day of the war, when it was shut down and perfectly preserved. It’s like walking into time capsule. From its secret location under the Treasury Department, Churchill directed his wartime operations, especially during those dark days when the Luftwaffe was bombing the city. If you are a WWII buff, this is simply a must-see. It’s all very eerie, right down to Winnie telling you this will be Britain “finest hour.” To take it all in, plan on spending 90 minutes. Although, if all you have is 30 minutes, by all means go.
TOWER OF LONDON
We’ve all heard about it, but until you immerse yourself into it you just don’t know what you are missing. This is the quintessential piece of London history. I have to say, I admire Queen Elizabeth but her ancestors were some odd ducks. For example, one poor teenage girl–lady Jane Grey (who really didn’t even want the throne)–was crowned and then beheaded in the Tower just 13 days later, because it was decided that Henry VIII’s toddler son should have been crowned. Oops. If you want to see what the 530 carat diamond The Star of Africa looks like, the Tower’s Jewel Room is not to be believed.
PUTTING YOUR BEST FLEET FORWARD
Each airline saves their best planes and service for their international flights. Call it putting your best fleet forward. I flew American Airlines business class from LAX to London and was not disappointed.
For starters their fully reclining chairs made a quite comfortable bed. There was ample room between myself and the next seat, so creating one’s own “bedroom space” for the red eye is a real possibility. Another thing I liked about the flight was the selection of new and classic movies. Finally an airline that gets it! People enjoy some of Hollywood’s old classic black and whites. Give me a Humphrey Bogart movie at 30,000 feet and I’m happy as a clam. The headphones were also very comfortable. They didn’t pinch my ears or want to fall off my head every time I moved.
Meals were actually very good and served in restaurant fashion with nicely printed menus. The service was everything you would expect from flight attendants who were true pros and had earned the right to represent American Airlines on their signature international flights. And you have to love all the little extras, like the warm nuts, hot fudge sundaes, premium wines and champagnes, hot towels, etc. etc. All in all it was a very enjoyable flight. I got a solid eight hours of sleep and arrived well-rested, well-fed and pampered. Thumbs up to American.
BUSINESS TIPS FOR OLD CHAPS AND YOUNG TURKS
The British are still rather, well, British and hence may come off as a bit formal. The older generation still prefer to network with the old boy club. Younger executives don’t need long-standing relationships before doing business. Rank is respected and businesspeople prefer to deal with people at their level. The website Kwintessetial adds this tip: “If at all possible, include an elder statesman on your team as he/she will present the aura of authority that is necessary to good business relationships in many companies.”
Most British are masters of understatement. If anything, they have a tendency to temper statements with a ‘perhaps’ or ‘it could be’. When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest. Think of Monty’s exchanges with Patton.
Don’t make exaggerated claims. Presentation materials need to appear professional. Be prepared to back everything up with facts and figures.
The senior person in the room will do most of the talking. In general, meetings will be a tad formal.
Punctuality is important. It is especially important in business situations. Arrive on time or a minute before.
Business attire is conservative.
• Men should wear a conservative business suit with a conservative cut.
• Women should wear either a conservative dress or business suit.
Unlike in Asia, don’t stare at the fellow’s business card. They should be exchanged but put away with only a quick glance.
How Suite It Is