We’ve all dreamed of radically reinventing ourselves and living life on our own terms. Scott von Eschen found creative solutions to the very real hurdles.
Scott von Eschen gave up banking to run his own guiding company.
by Chris Taylor
Scott von Eschen used to be a walking, talking investment-banking stereotype. He spent his days with Morgan Stanley, working 72 hours straight on impending mergers, cruising around on private jets, and living in the biggest house on the highest hill in Mill Valley, California. But every time von Eschen got back from one of his regular company-sponsored rafting trips down the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River, his mood would drop into a black hole. “I’d always been a rock climber, a mountaineer, a kayaker, and just had the outdoors in my blood,” says the 49-year-old. “I felt more comfortable with the rafting guides than with my own clients. My wife would see this and ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”
The tipping point came with the birth of his daughter Campbell in 1992. When he didn’t get to see her for a full week or more at a time — not because of a business trip, but as a result of his usual working hours — he realized his life couldn’t go on like that. “Every morning I’d leave before she got up, and every night I’d come home well after she’d gone to bed,” he remembers. “It was tragic, and I had to do something else with my life.”
When von Eschen discovered that a friend’s wife was selling her tiny guiding outfit, called Adventures Cross-Country — a modest venture that barely handled about 100 kids a year — he saw his window of escape. He bought the one-full-time-employee company for less than $100,000, not only to become his own boss and have a life where he could coach his daughter’s soccer team, but also to return to the outdoor culture that had been his first love, long before he got sidetracked into the halls of finance.
Von Eschen knew it would require a total lifestyle makeover. One challenge was convincing his wife to come onboard, since “all the goodies” of being an investment-banking family — the massive home, the trips to Deer Valley, the flying first-class —“all that stuff was going to go away.” She acquiesced, not least because her husband would now be able to make it home for dinner. Among the first things the family did was sell their 5,500-square-foot McMansion and move into a more modest 1,700-square-foot home, where they still live.
They had saved enough to survive maybe a year, but that was it, and that’s when von Eschen’s numbers skills came into play. The guiding landscape was littered with the defunct companies of passionate people who failed at business. He took his nine years of analyzing the best and worst of companies and applied those lessons to his own. He upped his marketing budget to woo new kinds of customers and kept overhead lean by not loading up on luxury gear he would never use, two things often overlooked by other guiding operations. He also got ruthless and cut all the perks he was used to at his old job — fancy offices, top hotels, pricey lunches — and ran the whole operation at first out of a 12-by-12-foot office.
Today Adventures Cross-Country has nine full-time staffers and employs 140 guides each summer, ushering 2,000 kids to far-flung places, from Peru to Thailand, every year. “In the old days, being on a business trip meant conference rooms in Cleveland,” says von Eschen. “Now it could be meeting with a chief in a Fijian village or the principal of a school in rural Tanzania.”
1. PENCIL YOURSELF IN TO DO EVERYTHING: “When you work for a big company you don’t appreciate all the resources you have available,” says von Eschen. “When you start your own company, you’re the accountant, human resources, the marketing guy, even the janitor.”
2. SCHEDULE MEETINGS WITH YOUR FAMILY: “You can’t overcommunicate,” says Brian Kurth of Vocation-Vacations, which arranges dream-job apprenticeships for a fee. “Set time aside each week to share with them your ups, downs, and ongoing fears.”
3. HIRE A LAWYER OR CPA TO ADVISE YOU ON THE BEST WAY TO INCORPORATE: “It may be hard to afford now, but find a way,” says Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union. “It will save you money in the future.”
4. PROTECT THE LIFESTYLE YOU SET OUT TO ACHIEVE: “Be careful not to end up being too busy to get home for dinner again,” says Robert Ashton, author of The Life Guide. “Let go. Don’t be afraid to delegate.”
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This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Men’s Journal.