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100 Best: At River City Travel freedom isn't just a concept

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Thursday, March 01, 2007



Angela Pope, and co-worker Fletcher, has telecommuted from Northeast Portland to River City Travel’s Tigard-area offices for the past two years.

Photo by Leah Nash

Like the old saying about what to do for the ones you love, two years ago River City Travel president David McElveen began setting his employees free.

No more cubicles, no more office life, no more long commutes to the company’s offices near Tigard — all thanks to technology that gives workers access to anything from the workplace in their own homes.

Today, more than 40% of the 80 employees who work for River City telecommute each day. And 41-year-old McElveen says he’s created a bit of a monster.

“People in the office get really excited about it. They really, really want to telecommute. But we do need to keep some people in the office,” he says, laughing.

When McElveen — who came from pharmaceutical sales — and vice president Joe Murray  — who was already working in the travel industry — started River City in 1999, the travel agency industry was hurting. Airline companies were cutting agents’ commissions; travelers were finding their own tickets online. Then came Sept. 11, the fallout from which only increased the number of disappearing agencies and laid-off agents.

River City, on the other hand, has never had to lay off employees because of slow business, says McElveen. That’s due in part to its client base of corporations and groups. The company, which saw about $36 million in sales last year, has also branched out. It owns 80 vacation properties on the Oregon Coast, a venture that it’s expanding to the island of Maui.

Like many budding entrepreneurs, McElveen and Murray tried to create the type of work environment they’d always dreamed of when they started the business. But since they were able to hire highly experienced employees as other agencies closed down, the company has had the freedom to take a hands-off approach to management. “As long as we’ve been considerate and fair, things work fine,” McElveen says.

River City staffers agree. They describe the management as caring and the work environment as family-like. They applaud the amount of communication McElveen and Murray have with employees.

Kerrie Morrow, one of the agents, says her bosses are the most fair business owners she’s ever worked for. “They’re just basically good people,” she says. “Everyone plays nice together.”


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And then there’s the telecommuting. “I am so lucky. It’s not that often you can say that about your job,” says Angela Pope, a 20-year veteran of the industry who’s been working from home in Northeast Portland for the past two years.

River City employees work from Vancouver, Eugene, and Lincoln City; most stop by the office once a week. Because managers at the main office can monitor the work the telecommuters have done each day, McElveen thinks there’s little difference between not being able to see someone who’s in a cubicle and someone who’s at home. Only when they’re at home they’re saving money and time by not commuting and the company is saving money on office overhead.

Pope can think of one thing that she sometimes misses: socializing with other workers. But busy agents don’t have the time to do that anyway, she says.

So, does she ever work in her pajamas? “Absolutely,” she says, laughing. “You think I get up and put makeup on every day? Are you kidding?”

— Abraham Hyatt



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