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Intrepid Promotes James Thornton To CEO

Hannah Edensor

Hannah Edensor

Intrepid’s co-founder Darrell Wade will be taking a step back from the business as Executive Chair, handing the reigns to managing director James Thornton, who today was appointed to Chief Executive Officer.

The appointment of 35-year-old Thornton comes as the company strives to grow sustainable tourism with a ‘millennial’ CEO.

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Thornton said that the promotion has been a while in the making, having been in chats with Wade about the direction of the company.

“Darrell has created an amazing legacy at Intrepid Group and it’s going to be a real privilege to build on what he’s created,” he said. “Darrell’s been a real mentor for me over the years.”

As for the hype about a ‘millennial’ CEO – although Thornton admitted he was just “on the cusp” for falling into that age bracket – it was an important part of the decision to have someone who could relate to both travellers and the Group’s employees.

“The future of Intrepid is probably more of an evolution than a revolution,” Thornton said. “And the recognition of the ‘millennial CEO’ for us was that the founders always wanted to see Intrepid grow sustainable tourism long after they were gone.

“They wanted someone they could trust and someone who is closer in age to both staff and travellers. The average age of staff is 36 and the average age of the Intrepid Group’s travellers is 42.

“Given my age I guess I’m much more aligned.”

Thornton hails from Britain and kicked off his Intrepid career 12 years ago as a UK sales and marketing coordinator, steadily climbing the ladder to become managing director of Intrepid Travel in 2012, and MD of the newly-formed Intrepid Group the following year.

The appointment comes 20 months after Wade and co-founder Geoff Manchester split from a partnership with TUI and bought back Intrepid Travel, along with the rest of the Group. Newly independent Intrepid has hit 15 per cent increases in sales since the split, and moved to new offices in Melbourne and London.

Wade will be handing over the day-to-day operations to chase new opportunities, including developing the Chinese market further and expanding the company’s new small-ship adventure cruise product.

Darrell Wade in 1988 on the trip that inspired the business
Darrell Wade in 1988 on the trip that inspired the business

“The growth that James has helped the business to achieve over the past 20 months reassured us that we have a sustainable future ahead – that purpose beyond profit can be profitable,” said Wade.

“We’ve learnt that it’s crucial to find people who share your vision and values, which is why the time is now right to hand over the reins for the next generation. I have every confidence that James will build on what we’ve created.”

“Darrell and Manch started Intrepid 28 years ago with the simple idea that travel could change the way people see the world. Their original vision has never been more important,” Thornton added.

“It’s a privilege to be able to lead Intrepid in to the future. We have a responsibility to support the communities in the destinations where we operate. I believe business can be a force for good and now that we have a sustainable business model, we’ll be even more actively pursuing our growth with purpose”.

Wade founded Intrepid Travel in 1989, growing it to the mammoth business it is today, taking 300,000 travellers to more than 100 countries every year.

The Group now includes leading travel brands Intrepid Travel, Geckos Adventures, Peregrine Adventures, Adventure Tours Australia, Urban Adventures, 19 destination management companies, and not-for-profit The Intrepid Foundation.

Intrepid Co-founder and owner Geoff Manchester remains as Chair of the group’s not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation.



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