Whether he’s skiing in Canada or camping in Montana or hiking the Rocky Mountains, local business owner George Nyfeler makes time away from work the best way he knows how: by taking work with him.
The avid outdoor adventurer and president of downtown-based surveying firm Nyfeler Associates said he’s found the most success from project proposals he’s written from remote and exotic locales he’s vacationed at with his family – along with his work laptop.
“I wrote one proposal from the little courtyard just outside our hotel in Santorini, Greece. And when we were in Telluride, I wrote another proposal for a boundary survey, and we got that,” he said. “It seems like sometimes when I’m on vacation, that’s when we get good opportunities to write good proposals, and then we win them.”
Asked how he makes time for his outdoor adventures, Nyfeler replied quickly: “Take my laptop with me and work.”
“When I’m on these trips, I’m still processing payroll, doing payrolls. Luckily for me, my people have gotten to a point where they’re doing work, finishing work, sending out proposals,” he said. “I try not to be completely out of contact. For some of those mini-trips within a big trip, I try to center around a weekend, so at least a couple days I’m not expected to respond.”
Nyfeler’s five employees – three full-time and two part-time – have a lot to keep them busy. They’re currently doing projects for NASA’s Langley Research Center and Boeing facilities in Washington, D.C., and they recently provided metrology services for a maintenance shutdown of Evraz North America’s Oregon Steel Mills in Portland.
But the married father of two doesn’t let the busy workload keep him cooped up in his office. Just last month, he was at an engineers conference in Arizona, where he worked in an eight-mile hike in a canyon while visiting his mother at another canyon near Phoenix.
It was with his mother that Nyfeler jumped out of a plane one of two times so far. The skydiving trip with his mom was her idea: a new adventure to celebrate her 78th birthday. He also tandem jumped in May with the U.S. Army parachute team at Fort Bragg.
He’s come across a bear and a moose while hiking in Montana. But his surveying work has brought its own encounters, including a couple mountain lions on a rock quarry job in Colorado.
Nyfeler said he picked up his love for the outdoors from his late father, who took him on hiking trips in Mexico after he was medically discharged after serving in Vietnam, where the Jeep he was riding in ran over a landmine.
Nyfeler acknowledged his trips keep him connected with his father.
“The central theme is my dad when I’m out doing this stuff, but usually it’s trying to take one of my kids,” he said. “It’s just the individual sense of accomplishment, that you can go where fewer people go.”
Nyfeler’s wife, Suzanne, brought him to town when she was accepted to law school at the University of Richmond. She’s a senior trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“When we met, she was a waitress and I was a surveyor,” Nyfeler said. Laughing, he added: “Now she’s a trial attorney, and I’m a surveyor.”
Nyfeler started his own business six years ago when the firm he worked for, McCrone Engineering, decided to close its Richmond office after a four-year run.
While he acknowledged his role as owner affords him some added flexibility to take some of his trips, Nyfeler noted the trust he’s developed in his staff who helps to keep things running.
“Usually with them, I’ve found that the less I’m involved, sometimes the better everything is,” he said.
While he acknowledges a higher-paying job with a larger firm could allow him to leave his laptop at home, Nyfeler said he prefers the work-life balance he’s found – so long as he makes enough to fund the next adventure.
“This line of work is fun. If you work for somebody else, you still have to be connected, but shouldn’t be worried about what’s going on. Then it would feel more like work,” he said. “I guess because I own the company, while at the same time probably making less, I’m happier.”
Looking at the photos from trips that fill his office, Nyfeler added: “I just have to make enough to keep doing that.”
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in our recurring series Downtime, focusing on how businesspeople in Richmond spend their time when they’re out of the office. If you, a coworker or someone you know around town have an exciting or unique pastime, drop us a line at [email protected].