The co-founder of Yorkshire Wildlife Park has been named as one of the country’s leading business figures.
John Minion, who has guided the park from humble beginnings to the UK’s No.1 walkthrough wildlife adventure in less than a decade, was hailed for his business drive and commitment to animal welfare.
He was selected for the honour by a panel of experts who were impressed by the park’s rapid growth as a business and its impact as a force for conservation.
CEO John, who started the park in 2008 with business partner Cheryl Williams, and his team have set new visitor records every year, winning a string of awards along the way with his naming in the Lloyds Bank LDC Top 50 Most Ambitious Business Leaders list the latest accolade.
“The founders of Yorkshire Wildlife Park acquired a run-down farm and equestrian centre with the vision of creating a modern and innovative wildlife park different from anything in the zoo world,” said Dan Smith, of LDC.
“John has focused no promoting animal welfare from the outset, winning the admiration and support of fans across the world. He has huge ambitions to turn the park into major year-round attraction in Yorkshire and is investing in that growth right now. It’s an incredibly exciting proposition.”
The park, at Branton, near Doncaster, now employs 300 staff, makes a significant contribution to the local economy, and welcomes 750,000 visitors a year. It has exciting plans for a £56 million development on 150 acres which would increase the capacity for animals and add extra facilities including a 150-bedroom hotel.
“We had this crazy idea to open a zoo,” says John, 42, who had looked after elephants at Woburn Safari Park.
“We knew that it was in a good area for a wildlife park but we had no idea how successful we would be.
“We aimed to reach 400,000 visitors and then hit that target within four years.”
John added: “We have always been ambitious. During our first year in business, I got a call from a friend telling me about this terrible zoo in Romania. We decided to rescue 13 lions from there, and I flew over and was greeted by the local mafia. We spent six months negotiating the rescue, and the News of the World covered the story, helping us to raise £150,000 in donations for lion enclosure and transport. It really helped put us on people’s radar and we’ve kept up those conservation efforts ever since.
“I love our animals. They are amazing and it is a pleasure to step out of my office and see them every day. I get such a buzz out of growing this business and creating a modern, successful wildlife park that is inspiring best practice across the industry.”
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