Facing Up

As horrendous as air travel can be these days, at least there’s still a chance that you’ll bump into someone important at the airport.

That’s apparently what happened to Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally and Toyota President Akio Toyoda. After a chance encounter at an airport terminal, according to The Wall Street Journal, “the two men exchanged business cards and the accidental meeting led to informal discussions about their operations.” That, in turn, led to further conversations. And today, it was announced, Ford and Toyota are set to work together on developing a gas-electric hybrid system for trucks and SUVs.

Image source: Nationaal Archief

The chiefs of Ford and Toyota were apparently on friendly terms already, but it’s unlikely that such a partnership would have been struck without a gathering in the flesh. “Person-to-person and face-to-face meetings with colleagues, associates, subordinates, customers and superiors are absolutely essential,” Peter Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilites, Practices. “There is no substitute.”

The importance of such interactions was a topic to which Drucker often returned, especially as technology was speeding up communication. “Long-distance information does not replace face-to-face relationships,” Drucker noted in Management Challenges for the 21st Century. “It makes them actually more important. It makes it more important for people to know what to expect of one another. It makes it more important for people to know how the other person actually behaves. It makes it more important to have trust in one another.”

[EXPAND More]Drucker saw the potential of technology to allow us to stay in place and avoid travel, but he also saw no substitute for two people actually sitting together. “No matter how far from each other, executives will be more and more able to ‘meet in the same room,’ see each other eye to eye, talk to each other face to face, and exchange reports and graphs, all without physically leaving their own offices,” Drucker predicted in 1982’s The Changing World of the Executive. However, “truly to know another person, for example, will probably always require a real, rather than a simulated, presence.”

How do you make strategic use of face-to-face time in your business?[/EXPAND]