Floating Over Vales and Hills, Embracing the Bliss of Solitude

Jan 25, 2013 | The Wall Street Journal

By Te-Ping Chen

Don’t board a plane in Asia wearing a track suit—-you never know when you’ll run into a client. That’s just one of the lessons Christine Greybe, president of executive search firm DHR International, has learned in her 20 years living and traveling in the region. She spoke with the Journal about the joys of in-flight solitude and where to find the best Italian food.
How often are you up in the air?
Three to four trips a month, mostly within Asia, to first-tier cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, Singapore and Mumbai. I’ve done 40 or more trips in the last year. A lot of it is meeting with staff and clients, entertaining and doing interviews.

What’s the best city for entertaining clients?
The best food is in Tokyo. Not just Japanese, but the best Italian, the best French. They refine everything, they make it a bit lighter, and you’ll find the chefs have actually studied in Milan. It’s just perfected and everything’s very seasonal—if it’s truffle season, you’ll get truffles.

What’s the best thing about flying?
I love the fact that no one can call me. I don’t like to be disturbed and generally I don’t even talk to people next to me. I like the new configurations they have in business class where you sit on your own and it’s quite separate. It suits those frequent travelers who don’t want to be making small talk to people you don’t know.
Unless I really have to work, planes are a time for sleeping, watching movies and reading. You know, you’d never go and watch “Madagascar” in a movie theater, but you watch it on a plane because you’re curious.

Who has the best business lounge?
British Airways. Their lounge in London is beautiful. You can go for a massage and they have chefs who can make you a proper meal, Indian or whatever, made to order. You can also have facials, there’s a spa facility and you can even have clothes ironed or steamed. You almost wish you had a few more hours there. For most airlines, their best lounge is their flagship lounge. That’s probably where Cathay struggles a little. Their lounges are overcrowded in Hong Kong.

What’s your favorite hotel in the region?
The Four Seasons in Tokyo, at Marunouchi. It’s a boutique Four Seasons, very modern, with just 50 rooms, a beautiful gym and an onsen-style washroom with steam and everything. It’s not very well-known but conveniently located, the service is impeccable, and it’s not crowded. The gym is very well-appointed with great equipment, and because it’s Japanese-designed, when the sun comes up, the blinds come down—it’s great.

How do you stay fit on the road?
I always look for gyms open 24 hours a day. There are a lot of countries where gyms don’t open early. They open at 6:30 or 7 a.m., which is a little late if you have morning meetings.

When traveling, what’s your preferred outfit?
If it’s a long haul, I prefer to travel in a track suit. It’s comfortable, you can sleep in it. But if it’s regional, I generally have to travel in suits, because there’s a 90% chance I’ll run into a client or a candidate on the plane. I’ve made the mistake of being too casual—once, I’d been working on a CEO search and I got on a very early plane to Japan wearing a track suit. We were delayed at the airport and then I ran into two clients in the lounge and saw someone else I knew on the plane. One of them said they didn’t even recognize me, which was embarrassing. I decided that would never happen again.
If traveling on business, it’s also good to travel in suits, because there can always be delays and you can’t count on having time to change at the hotel.

What’s your favorite set of luggage?
I wouldn’t say I’m very brand conscious. I generally use the Samsonite black label because I like the hard cases. Whatever’s durable and light, and has lots of room in it.

How long does it take you to pack?
It normally takes me 15-20 minutes. My husband complains I’m always packing at the last minute, and it’s chaos, but I don’t like my clothes to spend too much time in the suitcase, because they’ll get creased.
That’s another thing that’s hard about traveling, to feel good about your clothes, because you get tired of them. So when packing I also try to think about how you can accessorize with shoes or a handbag or jewelry, so you feel a bit fresh every day.

What else do you prioritize when you’re on the road?
I’ll try to arrange to have dinner with a friend or colleague when traveling. Particularly as a woman, it’s always harder eating alone in a restaurant—you don’t want to be picked up. I also look for good running routes. There are a number of websites you can use to even find buddies to run with when you travel. I try to invest time in planning so the things that matter to me don’t get overlooked on the road.