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Meet the 25-Year-Old Wedding Photographer Who Became CEO of Lonely Planet


Many young people enter the workforce amiably equipped with determination, aptitude and optimism -- and simply dream of being given a chance to express their gifts. But the chance afforded to 25-year-old Daniel Houghton is precisely the kind that dreams are made of.

For the last year, Houghton, a former wedding photographer, has been running the show as CEO of multimedia travel guide company Lonely Planet.

Houghton was personally tapped for the job by Brad Kelley, who purchased Lonely Planet from the BBC last year for a reported $77 million. Kelley is a Kentucky billionaire and the fourth-largest private landowner in America, who amassed his fortune in the tobacco industry.

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According to Outside magazine, after learning about Houghton’s photo and video work online, Kelley asked Houghton -- a fellow Kentuckian -- to help him found NC2 Media. Short for the Latin phrase “in situ,” the company produced webisodes and a gear blog before Kelley purchased Lonely Planet under NC2’s auspices, immediately naming Houghton its chief.

The fact that he has absolutely no experience running a global corporation -- though he is said to possess charisma and drive in bounds -- begs the question of what industry leaders should prioritize when considering a hire.

In an attempt to explain his decision, Kelley, a notorious recluse who doesn’t use email, granted a rare and elusive 118-word written interview to Outside.

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“Daniel has created his own opportunity,” he wrote. “While we share some characteristics, such as drive and an ability to adapt, his superior organizational skills along with personal and communication skills have made him invaluable to the business."

Of their serendipitous meeting, Kelley acknowledged it was "Kismet. Simply put, a fortunate event."

Unsurprisingly, Houghton’s appointment as the head of fledgling Lonely Planet -- in the face of a global recession, a fraying book industry and widespread reticence to travel in the shadow of 9/11 -- has been met with both skepticism and delight.

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One of Houghton’s first orders of business was laying off 75 of the company’s 383 employees -- which in turn, inspired a mournful Twitter hashtag, #LPMemories. But by Houghton’s telling, Kelley prepared him for the moment, saying, “Needing to be liked is a problem. As long as you understand that, this will be fun."

Lonely Planet was founded in Australia during the 70s by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, an adventure-loving couple from the UK. BBC paid a total of $210 for the company over the course of four years beginning in 2011.

Today, Lonely Planet comprises travel books, TV shows, a magazine, mobile apps and a website. Central to Houghton’s proposed revamp are digitally-focused endeavors, including apps “that will change the way people travel,” an e-magazine and a retooling of its content sources.

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Geoff Weiss

Written By

Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at