Dale Drake keeps rafting company afloat

Underneath the surface of all the white-water fun at Clear Creek Rafting Co., tucked away behind an employees-only area, guarded by a facetious “Swimsuits optional beyond this point” sign, and buried beneath cardboard crates overflowing with paperwork destined for government agencies, one can find the always bustling office of Dale Drake.

As the general manager for the rafting company’s site in Idaho Springs, Colorado, Drake oversees all daily and longer-term functions and operations, making sure everything runs as swimmingly as possible.

“I do anything and everything that’s required to keep the company running,” said Drake in an interview. “From offseason advertising, to — obviously — daily operations, to permitting, it’s just about anything you could think of.”

The general manager position is an intense role, demanding lengthy hours, improvisation skills, interpersonal relationship abilities, stress management, split-second decision making, both long-term and short-term focuses, and much, much more.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the responsibilities Drake mentioned:

  • Filing end of season report
  • Applying for next year’s commercial permits
  • Securing work visas for foreign employees
  • Maintaining positive customer relations
  • Responding to press inquiries
  • Repairing broken-down vehicles
  • Scheduling and assigning trips for employees
  • Managing crises (e.g., customer injuries)
  • Organizing company social events (e.g., midseason party)
  • Overseeing guide training
  • Maintaining a positive work environment for employees

Drake began rafting in 1998, originally on the Arkansas River near his hometown, Cañon City, Colorado. Originally, it was meant as a summer job while he pursued a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Fort Lewis College. After graduating, however, he realized his lifelong passion for rafting and began working for Clear Creek Rafting Co. in 2001.

At first he only worked part time, as he also as managed a ski shop in the Dumont area. In 2004, he was offered a full-time position as a general manager for Clear Creek Rafting Co., which was an offer, he said, he couldn’t refuse.

“I didn’t ever say when I was growing up that I wanted to be a rafting company manager, so it kind of came to my lap in a certain way of speaking, but I think I definitely found the right path,” said Drake. “I’m doing what I love to doing, and I think I’m relatively good at it, and I think it’s a good fit for me, my family, and my lifestyle.”

Drake is unique in that he does not have a bachelor’s degree related to business. Most general manager positions require a bachelor’s degree in business administration, management, or a field related to their work, according to Chron.com.

When asked as to how he utilizes his computer science degree in his work, Drake replied that he does not. Rather, he utilizes the skills he learned at college in general.

“That specific major didn’t translate; however, being in school did translate,” said Drake. “I did learn a lot of life lessons: lessons about priorities, lessons about how to manage my time.”

On the mention of time, Drake puts in a considerable number of hours, even for the typical general manager.

During the rafting season (mid-May to early September), Drake reported working approximately 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes up to seven days a week. That translates to just under 100 hours on a particularly busy week!

“During the season, I’m almost never not on-call,” said Drake. “Even when I’m not at the office, I’m still on my phone, helping with questions or dealing with situations that may arise.”

While most managers will similarly remain on-call at all hours, they will typically work about 40 hours a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Drake said this is approximately what he works when it is not rafting season.

The Bureau also reports that the median annual wage of a general manager is $97,730, which translates to an hourly wage of $46.99. This depends on the particular business, as some managers only earn $44,190 a year, while others can pull in as much as $200,000 a year.

Overall, an estimated 2,145,140 people work as general managers in the U.S., according to the same report. Even if managers tend to hold their roles for quite some time, given the number of positions nationwide, a prospective worker should find no trouble in locating employment opportunities.

As for advice for prospective managers, Drake suggests, above all else, to develop interpersonal skills.

“Be prepared to work with a lot of different people and different personalities,” said Drake. “That’s probably one of the more challenging parts of the job. So you’ve just got to willing to be open-minded and sometimes learn to pick your battles, which ones are worth fighting, and which ones aren’t. I think that applies to any kind of management job or position, whether that’s managing a company, or managing a study group, or managing whatever. It’s really just working with people and being willing to be open minded and hear all points of views and work with lots of different people from lots of different avenues of life.”

Another consideration with becoming a manager, and as Drakes closing thoughts, he reflected how his management position has kept him from doing what he loves on the river: rafting.

“I absolutely enjoy being on the water; however, the duties of the job don’t always allow me as much time on the water as I’d like,” said Drake. “So I probably spend more time in my office than I’d like, but sometimes you just got to do what you got to do.”

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Drake doing what he loves. [Photo courtesy of Clear Creek Rafting Co.]

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