Contiki buses usually don’t attract much attention from people in their 80s. But every time John Anderson sees one, he smiles. That’s because Contiki was his brainchild, way back in 1962.
“I always wave because I think to myself, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be having the time of your life.”
Anderson built the business out of necessity. He’d arrived in London with plans to see Europe, but without the cash to make it happen. A born entrepreneur, he posted a notice saying he had ‘just two seats left’ on a non-existent camping tour of the continent. His ploy worked, and he fast had the numbers he needed to make it happen.
So he rustled up a van, hit the road, and Contiki tours was born.
Luckily, his ‘make it up as you go along’ attitude seemed to pay off. On his second ever trip, he discovered he’d run out of money to complete the final leg to Spain. So he took the money he had left, found a local casino, and put it on the roulette wheel. Lucky with his bets, he took his winnings home, and completed the trip. His guests were none-the-wiser.
He’d started Contiki to see Europe, then kept going because it was a way to make money. “Then subsequently it became the challenge of turning an idea into commercial reality.”
But unfortunately his final challenge didn’t end so well. Plans to build resorts for young people ended in disaster. Thanks in part to the stockmarket crash, John and his family lost the business, and even their house. The moved home to New Zealand, penniless.
Thankfully, Anderson’s resilience and good nature were about to pay off again. He had a job pruning in vineyards, when he got a call asking him to tell his business story at a conference. Intrigued, he went, and was eventually picked up by a speaking agency. He puts it down to his skills as an entrepreneur.
“(We) are dangerous people. We don’t have a negative bone in our body, of course we can do it!”. That launched his second career as a keynote speaker.
These days, he’s been travelling the world once again, this time telling his story to paying audiences. But he’s never forgotten the fun he had creating Contiki. And even today, he loves seeing the pleasure people get from something he created. “I get a kick out of it every time!”.
If you want to listen to more of the Contiki journey, John Anderson’s episode of HP Business Class is here.