Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Remarkable Business Traveler

Almost 800 years ago, In 1271, a 17 year old named Marco Polo, set out on a business trip with his father and uncle.  Italian merchants and traders they went in search products to offer their customers.  They weren’t the first Europeans to make this journey nor was this their first trip.  But this twenty-four year long journey did more than bring new goods to their market - – it changed the world.

According to  Nayan Chanda author of Bound Together  How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization, Marco Polo’s book Travels describing his experiences was “a major building block in the rise of Western awareness about the mysterious Orient.”  It created a new understanding of the world of that time.

To me what is most impressive about his story is the relationship he established with Kublai Kahn, the Mongol ruler of China and beyond.  Due to his language skills, intelligence, and personality Marco Polo was able to gain the trust of this warrior ruler and become his emissary throughout China and regions as far away as India. His was an extraordinary accomplishment  - bridging the differences in culture and experience to gain this level of trust and responsibility. 

His story is reminder to all of us, today’s business travelers, that it is possible to create strong connections, solid business relationships with people whose way of doing things differ from own. That business can take occur in places that are new to us.  Be inspired by the silks and spices the Polo family introduced to Europe!  Patience, curiosity and most of all being there in person make the difference.  Your trips are not likely to last twenty fours years but even 24 hours with a colleague sharing conversation,  a cup of tea or coffee in person – rather than exchange an
e-mails can bring unexpected benefits.

If we follow the example of Marco Polo, go off an engage with people, do business in unexpected places, it is possible that we too can expand our business and maybe we too can change the world.

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