From the hip­pie trail to mak­ing the world a bet­ter place

The Mercury - - BUSINESS REPORT | INTERNATIONAL - Lee Man­nion

THE man who brought back­pack­ing to the masses is now bank­ing on busi­ness to make the world a bet­ter place.

To­gether with his wife Mau­reen, Tony Wheeler, founder of the iconic Lonely Planet travel guide, has set aside £10 mil­lion (R177m) to ed­u­cate a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers to lend their busi­ness skills to de­vel­op­ment is­sues.

“If you’re push­ing en­trepreneur­ship, it’s the de­vel­op­ing world where we would par­tic­u­larly like to see it hap­pen­ing,” he said of his fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Wheeler In­sti­tute of Busi­ness and De­vel­op­ment at the Lon­don Busi­ness School.

It’s worlds away from the hip­pie trail that made Wheeler’s name but it is driven by the same pas­sion for far-flung places.

Since he first hit the road in 1972, Wheeler has vis­ited at least 170 coun­tries – Nepal is his most vis­ited, Iraq is where he felt most un­easy – and has seen myr­iad changes down the decades.

“Peo­ple are most aware of inequal­i­ties now.

“What’s it all about in the end?

“It’s about busi­ness and jobs and work and if we can do that in a good way it’s a good thing,” Wheeler said.

The Wheeler In­sti­tute wants stu­dents to use their nascent boardroom skills in poorer coun­tries, with an eye on cre­at­ing jobs and grow­ing busi­nesses with a pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact.

Guest speak­ers from govern­ment and de­vel­op­ment agen­cies ex­plained the concrete dif­fer­ence which stu­dents can make.

They can go out in the field and ap­ply their new skills on real busi­nesses.

Con­science

Aside from back­ing busi­ness with a con­science, Wheeler said he wanted to give back to his alma mater where he stud­ied for free, in con­trast to the steep debt run up by to­day’s stu­dents.

After grad­u­at­ing in 1972, he headed over­land to Mel­bourne in Aus­tralia, which re­sulted in a first in­trigu­ing travel book, Across Asia on the Cheap.

Lonely Planet was born, of­fer­ing ad­vice on bud­get travel, and grew into the world’s big­gest guide book pub­lisher.

Touted by trav­ellers across the globe, Lonely Planet has printed more than 100 mil­lion books in nine lan­guages, map­ping out tourist trails from Aus­tria to Antarc­tica.

In 2007, the Wheel­ers sold Lonely Planet to the BBC and by his own reck­on­ing, his net worth is now “over $100m”.

Wheeler said he planned to fund the in­sti­tute for three years and as­sess its im­pact be­fore com­mit­ting fur­ther. – Reuters

Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler is poised to ‘give back’ by back­ing a busi­ness with a con­science.

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