In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, George Hyfantis described the 2003 and 2010 events where he had to wear his entrepreneurial hat rather than his preferred engineering, technology or management clothing. Fortunately, he had founded a few companies in the past, so he had some experience on which to could draw.
The first challenge came in 2003 when Hyfantis, who had been working for a Knoxville-based division of an out-of-state company, and a colleague working at another company, faced a major decision. The corporate owner said, “You can buy the division for a fair price, or I’m going to shut it down.” Faced with a choice, Hyfantis and his colleague adopted the mantra of a start-up and founded QE2.
“I have a technology-driven brain, but I lost that when I went out on my own,” Hyfantis said. “You can’t do that (develop technologies) and run a service company.”
QE2 was launched in 2003 as both a civil and environmental engineering firm. Over the next several years, Hyfantis and his team worked to elevate the company’s visibility, increased revenues, and secured a five-year contract with the State of Tennessee to provide a variety of environmental services – air, water, waste, indoor air, noise, mold, mildew, etc. – for any state agency. That contract was competed five years later, and Hyfantis proudly says, “We won again, beating the big guys.”
By 2008, QE2 was beginning to see the effects of the economic downturn, causing Hyfantis to focus less on civil engineering – not as much demand – and concentrate on the environmental work.
It was also a time that, as a small businessman, he had to again don his entrepreneurial hat and determine how to survive. “Retracting wasn’t without pain,” he notes. Some staff were cut and others added additional duties to their existing jobs, something Hyfantis calls being “multi-functional.” He added project management work to his duties as well.
“We had a bad year in 2010,” he says, proudly noting that 2011 was “a recovery year when we about broke even.” Thus far in 2012, the company is profitable. More important, Hyfantis says that “the changes have allowed us to position QE2 for growth.”
One trait of entrepreneurs is to see opportunities and pursue them. In Hyfantis’ case, QE2 saw an opportunity to add design and permitting work for surface mines.
“We don’t do mountain top removal in Tennessee,” he quickly added.
With the recovery underway, Hyfantis has time for some of his other passions. He’s an Adjunct Professor of Engineering at theUniversityofTennessee,Knoxville. This role not only keeps him up-to-date on engineering matters, but it also gives him a “unique opportunity to look at students” for his recovering business and “pick the best.”
“I’d love to get back into R & D if I can get on sounder footing,” he says, noting that people are pitching ideas to him that he cannot pursue right now.
For fun, he’s the drummer in a local rock band called the Hobie Scaggs Band.
The last few years have been challenging. In response to a question as to whether he would have made the same decision in 2003, Hyfantis says his answer would be, “Yes this year but no last year.”
As any successful entrepreneur, the journey has produced lessons learned. For Hyfantis, there are two of the proverbial “if I had known then what I know now” answers. First, he says he would not have hired as many people, clearly still feeling the pain of layoffs. Second, he says that he would have been more aggressive with business development.
Yet, he is philosophical about where he, his partner and two principals are in QE2’s history. “You have to believe you have done something right if you have survived this mess.”