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CEOs need to get off their chairs and out the door

A wise man – he was so wise, he led his venture capital company to an investment in one of my businesses – once told me that a CEO on the road is worth two in the seat.

I seem to recall that I was whining about hitting 180 nights in overnight travel that year (I went on to do 20 more before the year was out). This experienced equity investor reminded me what it was all for.

We both knew that I was hitting the road hard to meet customers, attend trade shows and work with suppliers. These trips always paid off in real dollar terms. That's why they were so frequent.

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In spite of all the connective technology of video-conferencing, online screen sharing, real-time white boards and such, there is just nothing to compare to face-to face interactions with parties critical to your business, such as customers. These trips create focus, grab your party's undivided attention and, as we have all experienced, body language can add a lot to getting your point across.

Getting out of your seat in your office and going door to door can be incredibly valuable to your business, in spite of the expense.

When I visited distributors in Japan or South Africa or Europe, I wouldn't just meet with the team and tour their warehouse. I would insist that I spend the majority of my time on the road with their sales reps, visiting their customers.

In addition, whenever possible, I tried to spend time with their customers' customers as well. I was selling a luxury consumer product at the time and that end-user feedback gave me an amazing education on how our product was perceived and used differently in different geographic territories.

Similarly, when visiting suppliers, I wouldn't just tour their factory and meet with my account manager. I would spend hours, sometimes days, on the shop floor, interacting with the factory production workers to better understand the challenges of making our parts and working in tandem with them to find ways to make it easier in both design and procedures.

That much travel is a balancing act, however. Too much of a good thing is usually not a good thing. My travels around the world for the benefit of my business caused me to fall behind on many responsibilities at the home office. It left a lot of operational responsibility on the team I was leaving behind and indeed, was a negative for my home life.

With that said, and as with many sacrifices you make for your business every day, these investments in business travel built a foundation that paid off for years into the future.

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Furthermore, as both I and my business matured, I had a better handle on the results and benefits that would come from prioritizing face-to face-meetings. That meant, over time, I was better able to delegate many of these travel responsibilities to members my team. I appreciated the break and they were glad to get the experience of doing business internationally.

If you prioritize your business's needs and destinations effectively, your organization will benefit tremendously from hitting the road, getting out of your seat and being closer to where your customers and key suppliers are.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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