Come downstream with whitewater wizard Bill McGinnis.

October 1, 1999 – By Kyle Noone — Bill McGinnis spent his college summers putting on far-flung river adventures with friends, his genuine love of the outdoors pushing his spirit to explore. One day he took out an ad in the paper: “River explorer/writer needs people for exploratory trip down the Selway.” People signed up. And Whitewater Voyages was born.

Today, McGinnis, 53, is a respected pioneer in the adventure sports industry, which has grown from fringe acceptance to a “must have” experience for millions. His company, started with two rafts and $500 from his Grandma, has evolved into California’s largest rafting outfitter. Perhaps just as important, he’s struck a rare balance among his work, passion and life.
You pioneered rivers that were once considered unrunnable. What sort of skills did you need to run those trips?

We had strong and open teamwork, a willingness to work together in a supportive way and to create an atmosphere, not of criticism or rivalry, but cooperation.

Are there parallels between running a river and running a business?
Yes, running a business has everything to do with personal skills and creating an atmosphere where people can make mistakes, be themselves and enjoy themselves. Create this atmosphere and you can bring out people’s best. You need to delegate to their strengths and minimize the impact of their weaknesses.

Especially so when you’re talking about a challenging river where a mistake could be disastrous.
It is not enough to just get people down the river safely. They also need to have a good time. To inspire that type of guiding, you must treat people as full and important and valuable human beings. Their ability to connect with people, to make good decisions, to be an effective part of a team, has everything to do with their own self-esteem, their own sense of being accepted.
Some would say that you have a dream job. Do you have any advice for those looking to combine their work with their passion?

I would say to listen to your own heart. All kinds of people will say you should not do this, that this is crazy. There are lots of businesses that can make a lot of money. Rafting is not one of them. But I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to be doing what I am doing. © 1999