Grant Wilckens is a self-confessed hillbilly.
“My youth was in the hills,” he says.
During his youth, Grant spent a lot of time at building sites.
“My old man was a builder and worked on Saturdays so I used to trundle off with him and have a look at building sites. I always thought I’d end up in building or construction.”
He didn’t. Grant is Discovery Holiday Parks’ CEO. The business is located high above Adelaide’s Light Square and Grant looks out over the city as he recalls his path through the corporate business world.
It started with an Adelaide University degree majoring in commerce, economics, and accounting. He then went to KPMG and became a chartered accountant.
“I hated being an accountant.”
In search of something more, he headed to London via a backpacking trip through Asia.
“It was unplanned,” he says. Over a series of months, he made his way through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Southern China.
“I bought all these cool, crazy suits in Vietnam and then turned up in London.”
Grant didn’t have a job lined up.
“I just turned up, walked around and networked my way through all the investment banks in London.”
It paid off. Grant landed a job with Rothschild & Co [one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory groups].
“It’s almost like the royal family… it has a huge amount of history. Mega, mega wealthy.”
Grant turned up to his first day of work in a brown tailored suit purchased in Vietnam.
“I took my hand out of my pocket to shake somebody’s hand, and all the seaming down the side ripped.”
“That was on day one.”
After first impressions like that, the only way was up.
“I worked my absolute guts out.”
Grant worked for Rothschild & Co for four-and-a-half years during his mid-twenties. By the time he left, he was a manager. It was intense.
“We got very little sleep but we used to go out running, even just [to] grab a break during the middle of the day or at night time. At 10pm we’d go for a run, then come back and do another couple of hours of work. It was crazy. I probably did 10 years [of] work in four years.”
Grant and his now wife Adele (a physiotherapist) packed up their bags and moved from Blighty to Sydney via a five-month independent overland trip through Africa.
He worked for 360 Capital Group before co-founding Discovery Parks in December 2004, aged 29. Back then it was called Beston and Grant saw an opportunity in the national holiday parks landscape.
The idea was to corporatise the industry and upgrade caravan parks into resorts and holiday parks. The initial purchase of three parks in Western Australia (Kalgoorlie, Boulder and Bunbury) was followed by five properties in Victoria.
Grant and Adele moved back to Adelaide where he put everything he had (financially, mentally, and physically) into the business.
“We bought 40 parks in 36 months. We basically blew the company up – as in we grew way too rapidly.”
Like all good businessmen, he learnt from mistakes. In March 2008, the parks transitioned to the Discovery brand. Today, the business operates more than 30 accommodation and holiday parks across Oz.
In 2011 Grant and his business partners won the Turnaround Management Association Award.
“We were the biggest turnaround in Australasia for the under $50 million [category]. We were smart. We restructured it. We turned a business that had negative equity, and we created about $50 million worth of equity. It was incredible.”
During February 2018 Top Parks group joined the Discovery Parks network and launched the G’DAY Rewards Program to celebrate. Basically, it means mate’s rates for holidaymakers. Discovery also launched G’DAY Magazine, a free mag for travellers.
The father of two refuses to rest on his laurels. “It’s a big bloody comment but in terms of the tech, I don’t think there’s anybody (globally) taking on the caravan sector like we are. I want to have the Uber of [holiday] park bookings.”
Where’s your favourite caravanning destination? Let us know in the comments, below.