Operating a business across two cities can be tricky, but if you keep your eye on the ball, the rewards are excellent, that’s according to ason Xenopoulos, CEO of NATIVE VML
When Jason Xenopoulos merged his Cape Town agency with two other agencies in October 2010 to form digital agency NATIVE VML, the reason was simple:
As one business, NATIVE could cater to a broader group of clients, and face-to-face, personalised account management would be possible in both cities. However, running a national business is not without its challenges, and Xenopoulos’ management style has had to change accordingly.
The power of personal
“It might be the digital age, and working remotely has never been simpler, but it’s still important to have face time with staff and clients,” says Xenopoulos. “I commute between Cape Town and Joburg each week, spending a portion of my week in each city.”
Xenopoulos is a firm believer that as CEO it’s important for his staff to see him on a regular basis, even if he’s not based in their city. “As CEO, my primary role is people leadership,” he says.
“It’s my job to keep people focused. That’s difficult to do without face-to-face contact. It’s important for our team to know that I’m accessible, and seeing me once a week promotes that view.”
From a client perspective, it also means that Xenopoulos can check in with key accounts in both cities on a regular basis.
“Just as it’s important for my staff to know I’m accessible, so too should our clients. We have excellent account managers, but it’s always good to know the CEO is only a phone call and face-to-face meeting away.”
Leveraging the digital age
That said, as a national company, NATIVE makes extensive use of the technology that enables connectivity between offices.
“We use incredibly sophisticated video conferencing technology with multiple screens. This allows us to have screens for ‘people’, while other screens are for documents. This allows for full and comprehensive meetings that include all strategic staff members, no matter which city they’re based in. It also means that while I move between cities, I’m always able to touch base with the office I’m not currently in. “
Balancing the commute
Xenopoulos has one key piece of advice for any business owner considering a weekly commute:
Create a predictable system. “Regularly commuting can cost a huge amount of time. At the beginning I was losing eight hours a week and I was exhausted.
Today I make it work because I have my routine down pat, from how I pack my bag, to how I travel to the airport, which airline I use and which hotel I stay in. A polished routine saves a lot of time, as long as you stick to it.
“I also have a few rules: I always fly BA and because I stick with one airline, they know me. I collect frequent flyer miles, but more importantly I have access to the lounge and the airline knows me. It takes care of me; I’m placed in an aisle seat where I can work – with an empty seat next to me if the flight isn’t full. All these details help me work, and end up being a huge time saver each week. I also always stay at the same hotel. They know me, and it also means I can leave a few personal items with them, which also helps with the packing.”