The boss of Doncaster’s Yorkshire Wildlife Park has been named as one of the top 50 in Britain.
John Minion, co-founder of the Branton-based visitor attraction, was named in the rundown of the nation’s 50 most ambitious leaders put together by Lloyds and the Daily Telegraph.
Since setting up the park in 2008, Mr Minion, 42, and fellow co-founder Cheryl Williams have seen the park go from strength to strength.
And after being named in the list, he has said the pair’s plans for the park are set to get even bigger in the years ahead.
He said: “We have bought some land, which will allow us to double footfall to 1.5m visitors.
“We’re creating a £56m development with a 150-bedroom hotel, and a one-of-a-kind restaurant: you’ll feel like you’re part of a movie.
“We’re also weather-proofing the business by creating a conference facility that will attract customers all year round. If I can turn this into a multi-million-pound organisation within 10 years, I’ll be a happy man.”
The pair had both worked in the industry before opening YWP – John looked after the elephants at Woburn Safari Park – but neither had any experience of running a business so taking on what was then Brockholes Farm riding school was a big gamble.
He said: “When we bought the riding school, it was losing £100,000 a year.
“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. We now get 750,000 visitors and we’re limited to that because of our planning permission so we’re buying more land.
“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.
He added: “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.
“For example, we are home to England’s only polar bear, and now the European guidelines are based on what we’ve built here. Our reputation also means we attract the best talent out there. A recent opening attracted 300 applications.
Dan Smith of list compilers LDC said: ““In May 2008, 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.
“John has focused on 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 a major year-round attraction in Yorkshire and is investing in that growth right now. It’s an incredibly exciting proposition.”