My Working World: F is for…
This seemed such a great idea when I first thought about it. I’ve worked in more than fifty countries around the world, interacting with hundreds of people, in government and in industry, in dozens of towns and cities. Working my way through the alphabet would be a fun way of categorising it all. Well, you may remember I struggled with D and E was even worse. But as for F…well that’s getting beyond a joke. If this continues, I may have to start combining letters from next month, either alphabetically or in combination to make fun words.
There appear to be a variable number of countries beginning with F, depending on how many French overseas territories are on the list, but my reference site lists six. I’ve never been to Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Fiji, Finland or French Polynesia, so that brings us down to a single choice: France. And of the eighty-one cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants beginning with F, I have visited only three; two in transit and one where I spent a wonderful weekend. But more of that later.
Much of the work I did as a technical consultant was either in developing nations, such as those I visited in sub-Saharan Africa, or in countries where the pharmaceutical industry was in a growth or improvement stage. Neither description fits France. When I was working in big pharma, our factory, nestling in the hillside above Nice, was state of the art and the staff knew as much as I did about modern manufacturing controls, if not a lot more. They certainly didn’t need or want any advice from me!
I had the privilege of being invited to a conference held in the new facility back in the late 1980s. I had just started work on a new concept, Total Quality Management, and made a presentation, full of enthusiasm, to the senior production team from around the globe. TQM has gone the way of so many other programmes in the past thirty years, but I like to think the principles we were instilling are still around somewhere.
The rest of the trip is just a selection of brief memories. I remember standing on the hillside in the sunshine, smelling the pine trees and admiring the view. The Engineering Manager, who was to become a great friend over the years, took us all into Monte Carlo for a night at the casino. And the conference dinner was held at the famous Le Negresco Hotel on Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Many of my overseas trips were hard work, in inhospitable terrains, under difficult circumstances. I guess you could say France does not come into that category.
I made a couple of business trips to France in the late 2000s, as I was coming towards the end of my first career. While consulting with a Belgian company on how to comply with FDA regulations, I led a small team that travelled to Paris to audit a purified water company. The visit was memorable mainly for my attempt to chair the closing meeting in French, despite my grasp of the language being fragile to say the least. My hosts and colleagues were very polite and tolerant, but I swear I saw some of them winching at times!
My final business trip to France was for a conference in Strasbourg. I was there as one of the organisers, rather than as a delegate, so my work was done chiefly at the margins around the main presentations, introducing speakers and answering delegates’ questions. On the final day, we learned that the roads would be closed for several hours as French farmers staged a demonstration. I remember dragging my heavy suitcase for several kilometres to reach the railway station, cursing the demonstrators every step of the way. My father and in-laws, all of whom were shop stewards at one time, would have been ashamed of me!
Frankfurt and Fort Lauderdale
Both these cities are on my list as places I have transited through. Each time I travelled to Almaty in Kazakhstan or Tbilisi in Georgia, I did so on Lufthansa. I don’t remember whether that was due to pricing issues or the convenience of flight schedules, but it always required a change in Frankfurt. The airport there is huge and I seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time travelling between terminals.
And as for Fort Lauderdale, this was where I caught the Amtrak train when travelling from yet another conference, this time in Florida, to a business meeting in Philadelphia. My American colleagues were amazed that I should consider any other option than flying, but the twenty-six hours on that train, with my own tiny cabin and the space to read, write or think, was absolute bliss in the middle of a busy trip.
Foz do Iguacu
And finally to one of my favourite trips of all time, to visit the wonderful Iguacu Falls. I had been working in Buenos Aires and was moving on to Sao Paulo. I took a plane to the Argentinian side of the Falls, crossed the border in a taxi, (which was a tad scary, as my driver disappeared into a tiny hut with my passport and I wondered if I would ever see him, or it, again), and stayed a night in the resort before taking another plane northwards. The falls were shrouded in mist when I arrived, but as I stood on the hillside, the weather cleared and I was within touching distance of the magnificent cascades. And, as anyone who has read Deception! will know, that scene turns up in the plot at one point. Well, they say we should write about what we know, now don’t they?