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Publishing Executive Strives to Balance Work and Family

One in a series of occasional profiles of frequent business travelers.

April 01, 2006|James Gilden | Special to The Times

Blaise Simqu is a guy on the go. Even when sitting comfortably in his office for an interview, one senses that he could spring at the drop of a hat and be off on the next plane to New Delhi for a meeting or to Frankfurt, Germany, for the annual international book fair. His lanky frame seems only outwardly at rest.

Globe-trotting is part of the job description when you are the chief executive of Sage Publications, an academic publishing company based in Thousand Oaks, with offices in London and New Delhi. "Publishing is a very international business," Simqu said.

To stay on top of this far-flung enterprise, he travels a minimum of four times a year to London, once a year to India, among other international destinations, as well as countless domestic trips. He is responsible for about 650 employees worldwide -- 350 in the U.S., mostly in Thousand Oaks, 200 in London and 100 in New Delhi.

He was just finishing a conference call with the London office when I walked into his office early last month. All of the meeting rooms and many executive offices at Sage have teleconferencing equipment used daily for meetings with colleagues across the pond and elsewhere. But teleconferencing is not a replacement for the face-to-face contact Simqu finds essential in managing such a diverse operation.

So he finds himself in the air constantly, away from home as many as 100 nights a year. As many frequent fliers do, he concentrates his travel on one airline, almost exclusively United, though he has been drawn recently to Virgin Atlantic on flights to London and was impressed with its lie-flat seats in upper class.

For international travel, he and the other senior executives in the company fly in business class; nonexecutives purchase full-fare coach tickets and can upgrade them using their own miles if they so choose.

Travel is a major expense for the company -- more than $3 million a year, Simqu said. "Publishing is a wining and dining culture," he said.

Twenty-five company executives travel regularly. An additional 40 to 50 editors travel to academic meetings and conventions, and 30 to 50 marketing managers are on the road two to three times a year. Company policy allows each employee to plan his or her own travel by whatever means they want. Many use the Internet, and others use travel agents. All are held to an annual travel budget and expected to adhere to company guidelines.

For Simqu, the right travel expense policy boils down to striking a balance between respecting the imposition that business travel places on the private lives of employees and the financial goals of the company. The fact that Simqu travels so much on the company dime infuses his philosophy.

"I think it is ... disrespectful for a company to require employees to stay in convention hotels, but then not have an expense policy or a per diem that makes it possible for them to afford breakfast in that hotel," Simqu said. "At the same time, I think it is disrespectful for employees to assume that business travel is an opportunity for extravagance. Business travel is not a game, nor is it an excuse for lavish dinners, expensive wine, green fees or spa treatments."

Simqu, who is married and the father of two young children, struggles like many business travelers to find a balance between work and a personal life. He makes a point to be home on weekends as much as possible, even if it means flying home from India, for example, and then jetting off again a few days later to London. This method means he ends up flying twice as much as if he had gone direct from India to London, but for him it is worth it to stop home.

"I know people who are away for 10 days at a time," he said. "As hard as it is on me, I just can't do that to the kids."

His main travel gripe? United Airlines flight attendants. "When you board a United flight, you just have no idea what's going to happen," he said. "Some days they make me feel so bad about myself for flying on their airline."

As trying as the travel is, he sees no relief in sight. The job simply requires him to be out and about. And despite the hardship, there is a payoff every time he gets on a plane: He is able to catch up on personal and business reading.

As for the promise of Wi-Fi Internet access while on a plane?

"No, thanks," he said. "It's really the only downtime I have."

James Gilden can be reached at james.gilden@latimes.com. Read his blog at latimes.com/dailytraveler.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Blaise Simqu

Title: Chief executive and president, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks

Away from home on business: 80 to 100 nights a year

Next planned business trip: London

Next planned leisure trip: Deer Valley, Utah

Frequent flier/guest programs: United Mileage Plus 1K/Million Mile flier, Starwood Preferred Guest Gold

Preferred airline/hotel chain: United, Westin

Preferred seat on a plane: Aisle, bulkhead

Favorite hotels (when on his own dime): Sanderson, London; Four Seasons Resort, Maui, Hawaii; Sonnenalp Resort, Vail, Colo.

Los Angeles Times

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