Profile: A honey of a hobby

People often say they’ve been ‘bitten by a bug’ when they take up a hobby. The expression has a literal meaning for Greg Georgeff, the former CIO for the Province of Ontario, who raises bees in his spare time.

Georgeff’s passion for bees emerged on his three-acre hobby farm in Acton, Ontario. He’s owned this bit of country life for almost 20 years, and has tended to it in tandem with a busy professional career as a senior IT executive with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Noranda and OMERS. Georgeff is also a longtime contributor to CIO Canada, appearing on our cover in October, 2002.

There eventually came a time when it was necessary to scale down the farming operation, he says, and get rid of the chickens, turkeys, and goats that his children once tended. Alas, the children grew up and went off to university.

Serendipity intervened, however. Six years ago a nest of bees made a home in his composter, and Georgeff decided to make the residence permanent.

“Bees have fascinated me ever since I was a kid,” Georgeff says. “They are so interesting from both a biological and organizational perspective.”

Their mating habits are particularly intriguing, he says. “Only about 20 percent of the hive is male, and they hang around all summer, eating honey and getting in the way. They’re only kept around in case the hive needs a new queen. If it does, the virgin queen will fly 80 feet in the air, and only the fastest drone gets to mate with her, but then he dies. So it’s better to be a slow drone.”

A beekeeper is in a position to be both an observer and a part of the busy hive. During the summer, Georgeff admits beekeeping is a low maintenance hobby. “You do have to make sure they have room, that there are no ant infestations, and you have to give them medication against bee diseases,” he says. “It’s ever so relaxing to look after my bees.”

The pace picks up in the fall at honey-harvest time, when the bees get busy as… well, you know. Extracting honey is a chore, he admits, “but I always say that I run a housing and Medicaid program for my bees. That’s why they reward me with honey.”

Georgeff waxes philosophical when comparing the altruism his bees display with the human behavior he’s observed as a seasoned IT exec and people manager.

“It’s interesting from an organizational perspective to think about some of the hive activity— the way bees always do what’s required. If they need to defend themselves against wasps, they band together even though they don’t have a real boss,” he says.

Georgeff’s hobby is not just a personal interest. It’s also a way to spend time with his wife. In the summer, the two take courses together, such as needlepoint and bird carving, at the Haliburton (Ontario) School of Fine Arts.

“It’s a way to make time for family and draw closer. I even tried cross-stitching one summer,” he says.

Georgeff says any hobby that exercises other parts of your brain and helps tune out IT matters is energizing. “I do highly detailed wood carvings. It means I absolutely have to concentrate, and when I do, the rest of the world fades away. I like doing things with my hands because all day long I work with my mind.”

By the way, Georgeff isn’t the only Canadian IT executive with a bee in his bonnet. Eugene Roman, CIO of Bell Systems & Technology, who appeared on the cover of CIO Canada in June 2005, has a sizeable Ontario bee operation. And Georgeff and Roman like to swap stories about how there hives are doing.

CIO Canada editor Dave Carey also goes back a long way with bees, though he’s not quite as fond of them as Georgeff and Roman. Carey was stung several times by some mad Russian bees during the filming of the award-winning bee movie (not to be confused with B movie), Wonders of the Hive, shot and produced by his uncle, John J. Carey, one of Canada’s leading nature cinematographers.

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–Rosie Lombardi is a senior Web writer at IT World Canada.

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