Imagine being invited to an event where you would bump elbows and share ideas with 430 inspiring people from 70 different countries.
This was the fantastic opportunity I just enjoyed in Athens, Greece. I was asked to speak and moderate the 2007 Sales Rally for SITA, the world’s leading provider of technology solutions and communications services for the Air Transport industry. While fulfilling this role, my wife and I were hosted in grand style, and we took the occasion to see some of the ancient sites we had read about throughout our lives. The experience created great memories, as well as meaningful lessons. As your Action Mail guide, I would like share the learning and the adventure with you.
Many companies say they are global, when in fact they are based in one country, maintaining a culture identified with that country, and operating in offices throughout the world. SITA is unique in my experience, as their culture transcends any one nation. Although the headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, this organization operates in over 220 countries. That represents a broader reach than even the United Nations! This reality, combined with a rich 55 year history, has given SITA a truly global culture.
At SITA, “diversity” is not a buzz word. It’s a fact. Curiosity and fascination are ever present, as people are constantly learning – about each other, about the world, and about themselves. When talking with conference attendees, their differences were apparent, including a multitude of unique accents, physical features and stories of life experiences. But these distinctions were never the focus of attention. Similarities took precedent – a shared corporate identity, shared goals and projects, and ultimately, a shared sense of humanity. Truly inspiring.
Fortunately for me, everyone in SITA speaks English, as it has been adopted as the universal language of Air Transport. While local events and operations present unique factors, the use of one language is vital to ensure that actions are coordinated, safety standards are maintained, and clear communication takes place.
The Acropolis and Parthenon viewed view from our hotel, and an impromptu back flip at the Delphi Theater, built 4th century b.c.
Enjoy the Journey
My wife Sheilia and I arrived a day early and extended our trip another day to make the most of the experience. We had never been to Athens and were anxious to explore the Acropolis, and as many other highlights we could, given the short time frame.
Athens is a juxtaposition of modern and ancient influences. It’s a bit strange to dodge traffic and take the subway directly to the base of Athens’ “Sacred Rock.” We were able to walk The Acropolis and surrounding grounds, visit the museum, and still have time for a leisurely lunch at an outdoor cafe, where we watched local crowds stroll the Sunday street market. Our stay was blessed with unseasonably warm and sunny weather, as well as an absence of crowds.
On our second day we visited the ancient city of Delphi (believed to have been the center of the Earth and the universe for a time), and we were alone among the ruins and beautiful surroundings. It was magical and, for me, the highlight of our site seeing.
Find the Right Guide
Before we left home for Greece, Sheilia had done extensive research about Athens and the surrounding cities. Knowing that we had only a couple days to explore, we wanted to make the most of our “free time.” Interestingly, on nearly every Google search about Athens sightseeing, we encountered the references to “George the Famous Taxi Driver.” We were intrigued to find his site, as well as other reports of great experiences with George, each enthusiastically recommending his services.
We were thrilled to learn that George was personally available to take us to Delphi. My excitement for the excursion grew with the prospect of meeting him, and the experience that would unfold.
George’s knowledge about Greece, past and present, is remarkable. He is passionate about his country and the rich history and mythology it offers. As our guide, his desire was to make our experience as comfortable, interesting, romantic, and memorable as it could possibly be. And he delivered.
We were so impressed by George (and had struck an instant friendship with him) that we enlisted his services again to visit the Temple of Poseidon on our last night in Athens. There, we watched the sunset, then dined at a nearby seafood restaurant. To exceed our expectations, George brought the Mercedes Limo for this second excursion- no extra charge.
With George Kokkotos and his limo and with Sheilia, just before sunset at Poseidon’s Temple on the coast.
1. Think global. I mean, truly global. This means suspending judgment about differences and seeking areas of agreement and similarity. It means being fascinated by other perspectives and constantly learning to feed your curiosity. You must learn to communicate with a common language, one that transcends personal identities.
2. Enjoy the journey. Seek opportunities to take advantage of your surroundings. Special moments await you if you will just take action to engage the people and places you encounter on a deeper level.
3. Find the right guide. Life is short. We are all on a “limited timeframe.” In order to make the most of the time you have and reach more of your personal and professional goals, you need to find the right guide. Who is your “George,” the person who can take you where you want to go and share the benefit of an educated and passionate perspective? Whoever that person is, you must enlist his or her assistance to reach your destination … in style.
I’m told that I received the only standing ovation every awarded by the SITA audience to an outside speaker. What an honor that is! But, even more valuable to me are the new friendships and life experiences that have stretched my thinking and enriched my life journey.
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
With encouragement always,