I had the opportunity to interview Liz Claman, anchor of Countdown to the Closing Bell on FOX Business Network, in between her own interviewing of a bunch of financial bigwigs. She was in Omaha for this Saturday’s Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, and has interviewed Warren Buffett several times.
I thought it would make an interesting conversation for View from the Wing since she’s a heavy business traveler. When I was up at the Freddie Awards and the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit last week, American Express Executive Travel shared a video with snippets from a conversation with 12 CEO readers of the magazine, about life on the road. What it means to travel, the joys and frustrations. To stay connected at home, to go out to eat with a spouse after eating out on the road every night. So I’ve been more interested in voices of other business travelers, not just my own voice.
For a bit of context, here’s Liz Claman interviewing both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates last year.
She interviews some pretty big time people, I don’t, so I admit it was a bit intimidating. But we were on my turf, miles and travel, so it was almost even.
You’re in Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, how long will you be in town?
I arrived this morning (Thursday) and am headed out Monday afternoon, after an exclusive interview with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Charlie Munger at 9:30am eastern.
You’ve interviewed Buffett before, what’s he like?
Oh, goodness, I think I’ve interviewed him 16 times? He loves to crack jokes, to laugh. That makes it an effort to focus and stick with questioning. He’s very optimistic.
Who did you fly to get to Omaha, and where are you staying?
I flew United, and am staying at the Homewood Suites by Qwest Center. On past trips to Omaha I’ve stayed at the Hilton and also the Country Inns & Suites. I fly United most often and have status with them, but I have all the elite cards from all of the program, like the scene from Up in the Air.
What is your hotel chain of choice?
My favorites are Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton. I love Marriott. I stayed at the Washington Hilton for the White House Correspondents Dinner and they had great linens. I bring my own toiletries and my own pillow cases – either silk or satin – it sounds strange but it helps with my hair and face for television. I love sinking into a bed with wonderful linens, and Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton are the best at that, though Hilton’s are good also.
Tell me about your travels, how much do you fly each year — number of days on the road? What are your key destinations?
I do about 60 days on the road, so two full months. I go to Switzerland for Davos, to Omaha, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, wherever the business stories take me.
For vacation I look for different places to try to get unique experiences for my children. One of the few places I’ve gone back to more than once is the Four Seasons Nevis. We love to ski and go to Vail each spring, I love Deer Valley. I was educated in Paris and love to go back, I love Tuscany.
Do you use your miles for your vacations?
The last time I used miles was with Delta flying to Los Angeles around Thanksgiving, I was surprised by how quite liberal they were, how they allowed it, I was really impressed.
Do you know if you got the saver or low level awards, or had to spend extra miles?
It was a lot of miles, but that’s what they’re there for.
What’s your routine on the plane — is it all work, or peace and solitude?
Whomever sits next to me thinks I’m insane. I sit down, decline all media offerings, no DVD players, I work on the outbound of a trip always. I have all of my research, I break it out, literally dive in. I have my highlighters, pens, eyeglasses, I focus and work the entire flight. The minute I’m done with one packet of research I move on to the next. I drink sparkling water, just water, since I get really dehydrated. I always eat the food, I love plane food. I always eat the chocolate chip cookie and the sundaes. But don’t talk to my seatmate, I’m focused.
On a short overnight flight like 6 hours Zurich for Davos, I don’t sleep at all, the whole time is spent with research.
But the return is completely different, I sleep and watch movies.
If your plane offers wireless internet, are you still focused on your research or do you plug in?
If there’s Gogo wireless I immediately log in. When it first came out I was so impressed that I booked the company’s founder and CEO and put him on the show the first year of FOX Business. I use it on my blackberry and also on my laptop.
So you’re a blackberry person and not an Android or iPhone?
I’m a Blackberry, but I may take the plunge and as a backup get an Android Samsung Galaxy phone, the Silicon Valley CEOs love it, they show it to me and the screen is so readable. But I’d carry that also, it wouldn’t replace my Blackberry.
What’s your routine on the ground — how do you avoid jetlag and hit the ground running?
I try to immediately adjust to the time zone I’m in, as you get older it’s more difficult, and I drink lots of water. I drink coffee in the morning local time for the location I’m in, a couple of cups, and start running. I take catnaps in the car, the lobby, they help a lot and then I rely on Ambien to get to sleep to get on the schedule as quickly as possible. Running around doing interviews I need to be not just awake but really present, so I have to get some sleep.
Tell me about a time when your travel plans got messed up — by weather, strikes, mechanical delays, what have you — what were your strategies for salvaging a trip?
A year ago Christmas, during the epic snowstorm that slammed the East Coast, I was in Los Angeles, flights were cancelled, and I switched to 3 airlines one after another. Virgin America cancelled, JetBlue cancelled, I called United Global Services and they got me on a flight. I spent the whole day at the airport and that flight got cancelled. After hanging around at the airport all day, I grabbed a cab and walked back into my mother’s house. I was fortunate to be able to work out of the Los Angeles bureau of FOX, so at least I was working. I waited a day or two until things calmed down, and United got me out.
Extra days on the road are tough, how do you handle balancing work and family?
I’m not a skype person, I’m a phone person, I call the kids, I talk to them, I always bring them back trinkets from where I am.
I’ve exhausted all there is to buy at the airport in Omaha (corn shaped beanie babies, soccer outfits, every corn husker item you can imagine). Bringing them back something means there’s something to look forward to. I tell them the stories of my trips and my interviews so they can envision what I’m doing.
The kids don’t sit there and watch my interviews with people, but if we walk into Starbucks I tell them about talking to Howard Schultz about changes they’ll be making. Then they understand why I went to Seattle.
I do my best, but I feel guilty about it.
Business travel: hard or easy?
People quick to criticize the airlines, but I’m so impressed by their safety record. I’ll put up with no pillows, long lines, all the delays, if the tradeoff is a solid safety record. And US airlines have done a beautiful job with that.
What about airport security? Next week frequent flyer community Milepoint.com is hosting a chat with former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, he seems to be backing away from some of the moves that were made by the TSA under his watch, saying they don’t make us safer. You experience TSA first-hand as a traveler, what do you think?
I respect the TSA and the job they do and can’t argue with their record, if they want to pull my purse apart and make me take off my sweater, if my kids are safe that’s fine.
You’ve met plenty of CEOs in your travels, who is your favorite interview?
Warren Buffett, of course, especially now that he’s a lightning rod for thoughts on taxation but he’s possibly the greatest investor of our time and he communicates well which makes him a good interview. Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Eric Schmidt of Google, I always walk away having learned something. Paul Otellini of Intel is one of the most serious and disciplined CEOs, there’s so much to be said for a guy who comes up with a plan and executes it for years, it looks like it’s not working and then there’s a Eureka moment. Silicon Valley has a lot of creativity.
Howard Lutnick of Cantor Fitzgerald is a true leader when it comes to clawing out of the depths of tragedy, not just being able to come back from it but a grow company exponentially in a way that no one else can mimic.
What are you most looking forward to this weekend in Omaha, other than interviewing folks like Warren Bufett and Bill Gates?
Omaha’s Old Market, I get to hang out with a lot of people. We’ll do a day of live shots. We’ll be in the Hilton lobby, it’s an extraordinarily festive atmosphere, Ajjit Jain runs the Berkshire Hathaway insurance businesses and you’ll see him come by. Shelby Coffey who runs the Newseum. John Freund, Warren Buffett’s broker. It’s old home week, we set up chairs and people come for a chat. The Network keeps coming back for “look who just stopped by.” We’ll have an exclusive interview with the Governor of Nebraska.
Liz, I appreciate your taking half an hour out of doing interviews to be interviewed, many of your viewers are frequent business travelers and it’s great to hear how you approach your travels, and the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting is such a big event we’ll surely be watching.
And what I wanted to say, but didn’t, is “if you can get your FOX colleagues to put me in the Sunday business shows, maybe Cashin’ In, or set up some time on the Fox & Friends curvy couch that would be cool, too.” But I figured I’d let that be.
What do you think — how does your routine differ from hers?