The 25-Year-Old Former Wedding Photographer in Charge of Lonely Planet

Last year, billionaire Brad Kelley, the fourth largest landowner in the U.S. and a former tobacco magnate bought guidebook publisher Lonely Planet from the BBC for $77 million. He then put a 24-year-old photographer (now 25) named Daniel Houghton at its helm. Kelley met Houghton soon after Houghton graduated from college, and the two worked on Kelley’s fledgling media company. He never asked Houghton about his age. Outside magazine has the story:

Houghton did much of the due diligence in preparation for the Lonely Planet purchase. By December 2012, he felt that he was going to have a major role in the takeover. A month later, they were sitting in the Franklin office. Kelley said, “There’s something important I need to ask you. Do you need to be liked?” Houghton replied, “Well, I want to be liked.” 
”That’s not what I asked,” Kelley said. “I don’t need to be liked,” Houghton said. “Good,” Kelley said. “Needing to be liked is a problem. As long as you understand that, this will be fun.” Recalling that conversation now, Houghton says, “I became the director, 24 years old, and I go fire a bunch of people. They think I’m an idiot. It didn’t make me popular. Brad prepared me for that. The guy is a fucking genius.”

After repeated requests, Kelley finally consented to a written interview about Houghton’s hire. Houghton mediated it, because Kelley doesn’t use e-mail. It was one of the land baron’s only interviews in the past decade and the only time he has spoken publicly about Lonely Planet. His answers totaled 118 words. He wrote, “Daniel has created his own opportunity. 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.” About that first meeting with Houghton, in Bowling Green, Kelley wrote: “Kismet. Simply put, a fortunate event.”

When someone asks what Houghton does for a living, he responds simply, “I work for Lonely Planet.”

Photo: Jay Bergenson

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