I love Paris. Doesn’t everybody?
There’s always been a draw for me to France, specifically Paris. Maybe it’s the language, the architecture, fashion, food, bread, wine, or pastries or perhaps all of the above. I first went to Paris when I was eight years old. And I probably traveled there more than half a dozen times later, in high school and college. In 2004, I took my first General Counsel job at a Thales subsidiary, Thales being a multi-billion-euro defense contractor based out of Paris. The job got me to Paris five or six times a year for a good eight years, a perk that quenched my Francophile thirst.
So last year, when the Extreme management team started discussing the purchase of an SD-WAN company based out of France, it caught my attention. After closing the deal, our CFO, who is half French, and I decided to take a trip to Paris. He was going to meet with customers and employees, and I was going to find our future offices since I am responsible for our Facilities and Real Estate matters globally.
I had not traveled internationally since March of 2019, prior to the start of the pandemic. The team was doing research on requirements for flying into to France and then from France back to the US and research showed that because I was vaccinated, I did not need to take a COVID test prior to flying. Yay! Phew! Right? Wrong.
My awesome executive assistant read the fine print for the hotel where I would be staying and learned they required a negative COVID test prior to arrival at the hotel. Then we learned I would have to present a negative COVID test within 72 hours of flying back to the US. Ahh… 2 COVID tests in a week. I think I’m not alone in saying that having that small stick stuck up my nostril, while it seemingly pokes at my brain, is not my idea of fun. Where would I get the tests? How could I time them to be sure I had the results in-hand?
Then I found out I might need something called a passe sanitaire, the French COVID pass that shows my vaccination status and would allow me access to the office, to restaurants, transport, and other gathering places. When I Googled passe sanitaire I thought, how come we don’t require that in the US? My trip was coming up, but I found out since I am not a French citizen, I would not be able to get a passe sanitaire on an expedited basis.
To say that I was getting annoyed with all these requirements is an understatement. I contemplated what would happen if I tested positive prior to flying back to the US. Where would I stay and who would pay for it? I wouldn’t exactly call it “getting stuck” when you’re talking about Paris. Was this trip worth the hassle, the potential exposure to the virus? Was it necessary?
I called our CFO. “I don’t think I can make the trip. I mean… I don’t have a passe sanitaire. And what if I test positive in Paris? The cost to the company will be huge if I get stuck. I’m going to cancel the trip.” Was this really me talking? An executive of a billion dollar plus company, who has travelled the world, not only with this company, but my entire life. Really? And I was abandoning my work responsibility? I couldn’t believe I was saying all this.
“Relax. Relax,” he said. “First, businesses want your dollars. If you can show you’re vaccinated, you won’t have a problem getting in. Second, why do you think you’re going to test positive? Mask up and be careful. We have business to take care of. Our new employees are waiting. We have an all-hands meeting on the schedule. And you have to find our new office.” Basically, he was saying… “buck up and get a hold of yourself. You’re going to France.”
And so, I went.
During my time in Paris, I got a lot done I couldn’t have working remotely. I met up with our EMEA Manager of Facilities, Mandy, and together we met with our real estate broker and toured various potential office spaces. We saw a lot of empty office space which is likely indicative of corporate real estate globally these days. Mandy and I visited our legacy Paris office centrally located in Neuilly and then the office of the SDWAN company we purchased in Massey, south of Paris. We spoke with both sets of employees and learned about sensitivities, traffic patterns, and other concerns regarding consolidating the two offices. The two of us, along with our broker, actually drove the distance between the two offices to simulate the commute and learned the traffic in and around Paris continues to be horrendous, even during these COVID times.
Our CFO and I conducted the all-hands meeting with our new employees. It was incredible to meet new employees face to face. After the all-hands, we had several productive conversations during a socially distanced gathering. Finally, I spent some quality time with Mandy. This was important not only for the work we needed to do in Paris in the coming months, but also in several other locations across EMEA. I had not seen her in person in over two years and it was terrific to have face to face time with such a key employee in our organization.
I really enjoyed these parts of the trip, and the “smaller” things about it, too, like seeing the sites as we drove through town, the amazing meals, the breath-taking architecture. I must have had four of those little croissants at breakfast every morning with my coffee. All of this said, from the time I landed at CDG, seeking my negative COVID test for the flight back was top of mind. My flight back was on Friday morning, so on Wednesday I started looking for a pharmacy to do a rapid test, which was an adventure.
On my flight back to the US I reflected on this entire process. Was it worth it? Was it worth the frustration and worry to travel during COVID?
The first quarter after the pandemic shutdowns there was virtually no company travel at Extreme, and today, while travel is up, it is not where it was pre-pandemic. There is no question Extreme, like most global companies, was and is today still saving money from lower travel costs.
That said, corporate travel has to happen. Technology companies operate globally. We have customers, partners, suppliers, employees, offices all over the globe. We must interact with all of our stakeholders to make our business operate properly. Do we need to travel like we did pre-pandemic? Did I really need to travel Paris five to six times a year, back in the day when I worked for that Thales subsidiary? Maybe not. But once or twice a year was definitely in order. And here at Extreme now that we have over 75 employees working in Paris, and are growing our market share in EMEA, many of our executives will have to travel to France and other European countries as well. Do we need to go every month? No… but once or twice a year is likely appropriate. There is no question that so long as there is COVID or a related variant or virus out there we will take tests and we will be required to mask up, but we must travel. Why? In person meetings are the way to build relationships and develop trust. As companies review their travel policies not only will they want to consider the cost of travel but the need – especially considering cultural norms – to travel. And for me personally… yes, I will go back to Paris. I may even tack on a personal day at the end to visit friends and do some site seeing. I really do love Paris!