The I.T. Road Show
How C.I.O. Tom Conophy, who has clocked millions of miles in the skies, takes it around the world.
Tom Conophy likes to brag that he's a billion-mile flyer.
The distinction isn't that big of a stretch. Conophy, 47, is executive vice president and chief information officer for the InterContinental Hotels Group, and part of his job involves inspecting technology at some of the company's 4,000 hotels around the world.
Conophy spends 14 to 20 hours on airplanes most weeks, heading everywhere from Atlanta to Dubai to Shanghai. He's a million-mile flier on British Airways and is close to the million-mile mark on Singapore and Delta airlines. Earlier this year, he received a letter from American Airlines congratulating him on breaking into their unofficial three-million-mile club.
"To say I'm comfortable in an airplane would be an understatement," says Conophy, an Army brat who is based in InterContinental's Windsor, England, office. "I actually like turbulence, as it breaks up the monotony."
Since Conophy spends so much time at 30,000 feet, he has developed a number of strategies for weathering the logistical turbulence of business travel.
"The process is all about making things less complicated" he says. "How can I pull everything together quickly? What combination of bags is going to be the easiest to lug around my destination? Everyone has a different system, but by asking questions like these, I've developed one that works for me."
One key to maintaining sanity is using airline lounges. Conophy is a member of American Airlines' Admiral's Club and the Delta Crown Room Club. Because he flies British Airways so frequently, he also has access to that airline's Terraces Lounge, though he isn't glowing in his praise of its customer service.
As a U.S. citizen living abroad, he is a big fan of prescreened security services such as the iris recognition immigration system. This program, in operation at London Heathrow Airport, enables returning travelers to breeze through customs by submitting to a computerized scan of their eyeballs. Although many travelers have criticized the technology for poor reliability since it launched in 2006, Conophy has no complaints.
"In places like Heathrow, with 747 after 747 landing and dumping people off, even for residents, the lines at customs can get long," he says. "With this, I land, and I'm at the baggage carousel in eight minutes-about as fast as I can walk it."
When it comes to preparing for his trips, Conophy packs his green Victorinox-a brand he likes because it is light and durable and has tons of pockets-with one set of clothing consisting of a shirt, slacks, tie, socks, and underwear for each day on the road. He tosses in a toiletry bag prestocked with duplicates of all the grooming products he uses at home.
Though other business travelers warn against checking bags, Conophy always checks his suitcase to minimize hassle as he negotiates airports (beside, travelers are allowed only one carry-on for flights originating in London). He's had only one lost bag since 2000.
On board he totes a leather Kenneth Cole attach� case for papers, his laptop (an Hewlett-Packard nc8430 he recently chose for its multimedia capabilities and large screen), and a power converter that works in more than 200 countries. Once he settles into his usual first-class window seat, however, he tries to keep laptop usage to a minimum.
Conophy spends most of each trip reading documents and sketching out ideas on an old-fashioned pad of graph paper. He describes most of this planning as "projects, assignments, and deliverables-type stuff." Mixing up the media, he says, sparks creativity-as does staring out the window and watching the world float by.
"I am a history buff and always studied geography, so I get a kick out of knowing where I am in the air without having to cheat and look at the airline flight path on the screen," he says.
Conophy doesn't stop moving once he hits the ground. An avid runner, he lugs sneakers and gym clothes wherever he goes, and usually asks the concierge at hotels in new cities to recommend a running route. He tries to exercise for at least 40 minutes each day and has been known to interrupt an afternoon of meetings just to get his workout in.
"Exercise helps me feel better and gets me into the local time zone," notes Conophy, who always keeps his wristwatch set on Windsor time. "Worst-case scenario, if I feel I'm in a dodgy place, I'll use the fitness center."
But no matter where he's been the week before, or how jet-lagged he might be, the world-traveling executive says he spends most Saturday mornings hunched over the stove in his Sunningdale, England, home, cooking up crepes or pancakes for his wife and three daughters.
"Under almost any circumstances, we still believe in trying to have everyone sit down together and have a meal," he says. "It keeps me grounded."Visit Portfolio.com for the latest business news and opinion, executive profiles and careers. Portfolio.com© 2007 Condé Nast Inc. All rights reserved.