Let's face it, it's never that good to bump into an ex-girlfriend but when it is 7am on a miserable Sunday morning in Gatwick airport and she is flying out for a week's skiing in perfect snow in Val d'Isere and I'm facing a 10-hour flight to Texas on business, that is really rubbing it in.
Sunday, 5pm local time, and I finally arrive at the hotel – time for a run, some food and a bit of work before an early night ready for an 8am start. First thing in the morning, I tune in to the local news and find it dominated by the story of a woman who has been on trial for having “accidentally” run over her husband (who happened to be in the middle of an affair). Make a mental note to try to remember how many times I hear the phrase “have a nice day”.
I dutifully arrive at the Aim (a fellow subsidiary of the Amvescap Group) reception and begin the slow process of accustoming myself to the Texan accent. Aim is one of the biggest and best-known asset management brands in the United States, operates out of Houston and is home to nearly 700 staff.
Of course, being part of a global firm and with the wonders of modern technology, within minutes I was logged on and corresponding with my colleagues in London. Sadly gone are the days when you could use travel as an excuse to hide from day to day work.
The serious work begins shortly afterwards with participation throughout the next four days in a range of meetings to enable me to experience and contribute to their product development and product management cycles.
The format of attending and, where possible, contributing to actual processes – ranging from the executive committee planning meetings to the monthly updates done by the product development team to the rest of the business – made a welcome change from merely discussing the processes in theory with senior members of the team. I am a firm believer that you learn more seeing things in practice than just understanding the theory.
One of the interesting facts that I found out about Houston was that it has the highest ratio of restaurants to public park space of anywhere in America – hence the reputation as the “fat capital” of the US.I must admit to trying considerably more restaurants than parks.
Wednesday morning and the long awaited outcome of the trial – the woman is found guilty as apparently she had reversed over her husband about four times. I don't have the heart to ask anyone in the office why the trial lasted so long.
After four days, I have participated in around 20 different working meetings and have met with around 30 participants in their product development and management processes. I start to wonder how the world would function without meetings.
Thursday afternoon and next stop Denver. Experiencing the same traffic journey to the airport that you experience in any financial centre, I was left wondering how I had managed to get through four days in Houston, which is within a few hours drive of the Mexican border, and had managed a diet exclusively of Italian and Greek food. Denver is the home of Amvescap's other US brand Invesco and is definitely colder than Houston.
I spend a full day with colleagues gathering ideas and wondering why I had not arranged to stay over the weekend and take advantage of the excellent skiing conditions. I clearly need to work on my priorities.
Stuck in another airport-bound traffic jam, I reflect on the week and, as often happens when visiting asset management offices abroad, I find myself more surprised by the similarities between the cultures, aims and challenges of the organisations than by the differences.
I arrive back just in time to relax with the odd drink and watch a victorious England in the Six Nations to complete an exhausting, but valuable week.
Mark Dickson is head of product development and product management at Invesco Perpetual