Chapter 1. Ditch the Desk


A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

 --John le Carré

No one would ever confuse me with George Clooney, but I have accomplished something that Ryan Bingham, the character Clooney played in the movie, Up in the Air, coveted. By accumulating more than 10 million frequentflyer miles, I earned the right to have my name painted on the fuselage of a United Airlines 747.

I was logging around 700,000 miles annually during the 1990s when we were launching Marriott's international lodging operations, and a good deal of my travel time was spent in the friendly skies of United. One year the airline came up with a unique promotion to reward 50 of its most frequent fliers. And that's how the words, "Ed Fuller, Customer," came to be painted beneath the pilot's window on a United 747.

As president and managing director of the Marriott division that operates and franchises overseas hotels, I spend a significant part of my life flying in and out of the scores of foreign countries where we conduct business. And my 10-million-plus miles have taught me a lot about the value of getting out from behind my desk and building relationships that span cultural differences.

I'm not unique. For any manager, knowledge of other cultures makes it easier to navigate the complexities of today's multicultural workplace. Whether you are managing a clothing factory, a customer call center, or a stock-and-bond trading operation, it's the rare business that doesn't depend on ...

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