By Vanessa M. Gezari
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The way Garrett Porterfield tells it, he was just a guy with a thing for a truck. One of his neighbors had a red Land Rover, and Garrett coveted it. As soon as he could afford one, he traded in his Volkswagen Golf. "I was hooked," he says.
A decade after that initial purchase, Garrett, 37, of Philomont, has turned his passion for Land Rovers into a unique outdoor-adventure business. As head of Team Rover Adventures, he has led groups of World Bank and AOL employees in backwoods navigation treks and organized high-end retreats for corporate and private clients that included off-road driving, fly-fishing, skeet shooting and "Iron Chef"-style cooking competitions.
His customers include contractors returning from Iraq who just want to unwind and employees searching for new ways to collaborate in the office. Under Garrett's instruction, they use Global Positioning System technology to reach a series of locations on the 4,200-acre Marriott Ranch in Hume. It's a giant scavenger hunt reminiscent of reality TV's "The Amazing Race."
"In the beginning, they're very quiet and timid, and nobody wants to take charge," Garrett says. But fording streams and navigating woodsy back roads can foster new thinking about leadership and problem solving. "By the end of the day, everybody's really pretty happy about it and communication has expanded quite a bit."
Born in St. Louis, Garrett grew up in State College, Pa., and earned a BS in architecture from Penn State University. He worked in Vermont, specializing in master planning, before starting an architectural firm with his father. They soon merged with a larger architecture and engineering firm where, instead of working in an open-plan office where he could easily brainstorm with colleagues, Garrett was assigned a cubicle. "It really does not stimulate the creative process, which is collaboration," he says.
He started wondering how he could use his strong interest in outdoor adven-ture to improve the way employees communicate in the workplace. Corporate team-building was gaining popularity but consisted mostly of hotel seminars. Garrett wanted to take people out of their comfort zone. He founded Team Rover Adventures in 2004, spending $104,000 pulled together from savings and a gift from his father. The company turned its first profit in 2006, netting $86,000, he says.
Garrett says he hopes to expand to more locations and add luxury camping, with large canvas tents and tableside catering, in part to meet the needs of leisure clients such as Nick Sutingco, who hired Team Rover to organize a friend's bachelor party this past spring. "We had previously talked about wanting to learn how to drive vehicles correctly off-road as opposed to just driving off-road and destroying your vehicle," Sutingco says. "Afterward, every single person that went was telling me that this was the most awesome bachelor day they had ever been to."
Garrett says people tell him all the time that he has a dream job. He doesn't disagree but says the business has involved plenty of trial and error. He started Team Rover in State College but moved it to Virginia a year later because he couldn't find a location that offered driving areas, elegant catering and a range of outdoor activities. "It's a lot more" than off-road driving and firing shotguns, he says. "The clients don't just call up."
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