Daniel Houghton made headlines two years ago when he took the helm of iconic travel brand Lonely Planet at 24. Houghton, less than three years out of Western Kentucky University's photojournalism program at that time, had amassed some interesting experiences in his time after graduation--including working as a photojournalist, a tenure at an advertising agency, running his own one-man marketing and photography shop, and acting as digital media adviser for WKU's student publications department.
But it was his co-founding of NC2 Media in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2011 that led the young man to become CEO of 40-year-old Lonely Planet when NC2 purchased it from BBC Worldwide in 2013.
On the heels of recently publishing my own list of "Don'ts and Dos" for twentysomethings who find themselves in a leadership position, I recently chatted with Houghton about some of his own.
Taking the Reins
"When we bought Lonely Planet, I wasn't thinking much about what I was going to be doing," Houghton said. "I was just happy to be part of it."
However, Houghton said the company needed big changes in leadership. In the end, Houghton kept only the CFO and, in the process, found himself in a more public-facing role. "That was 18 to 20 months ago," he said. "I feel like I'm 65 at this point."
One of Houghton's first tasks was to get rid of a little less than 20 percent of Lonely Planet's work force around the world. From there, he sought to bring new ideas for retooling the organization for the modern media landscape. And he did this while being one of the youngest employees on payroll.
"You can imagine what it's like with a 24-year-old taking the reins," he said. "I decided early on I couldn't worry about things I couldn't control. I can't control my birthdate. I can't control my background. I have to be me."
Instead, Houghton focused on bringing fresh perspective to an organization that needed a shakeup while also learning from his team.
Vital Leadership Strategies
Over the course of a few years, Houghton went from running his own business to co-developing a company with five employees to taking the helm of a media organization with hundreds of employees. And while Lonely Planet now has several employees younger than Houghton as the company once again grows, he remains the youngest member by far of his leadership team.
In the course of his journey, he's developed a few key strategies that have guided him as a young leader:
I had the opportunity to meet Houghton when we both spoke on a panel of WKU humanities alumni, where we chatted with current students about potential post-college paths. He humbly offered students insights into what's possible for them after they leave the university if they push and dedicate themselves. And his openness about his own experience as a nontraditional CEO of a long-known brand has taught me a thing or two as well.