Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Me&MyJob: Taking a Leap into the activity business

Benny O’Hanlon, who believes in getting the most from life – for himself and his customers, helps Pamela Ballantine on the zip line

Benny O'Hanlon, Managinf Director, Todds Leap activity centre

What does your job entail?

I have the privilege of owning Todds Leap activity centre in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone. I set the vision and oversee all departments — my managers do all the hard work! The first thing I have to do is motivate my brilliant staff every day to welcome the thousands of happy guests who arrive on site.

My job is to make sure that everyone knows what they are doing and that the guests, we call them ‘enjoyees’, get the best Todds Leap adrenaline fuelled experience possible.

How did you get into this line of work?

I first had the idea for Todds Leap when I was about 11 years old. I was asked to escort a walking club around the local area and show them where the best views were and when they were finished the organiser gave me 10 shillings. I was ecstatic and was able to buy a bicycle. A very early lesson in life was to give people what they want, make them happy and you will be well rewarded. Twenty years later we brought the idea of an outdoor pursuits centre to fruition. I started out by buying the two farms that make up the Todds Leap site today, then proceeded to dig the maze of tracks for the off road driving, in any spare time I had, as that was what I was initially passionate about. (The quotation: ‘If you build it they will come,’ was my mantra). Most people who knew me said I was crazy, and those who didn’t know me agreed with them. Sometimes I just wondered.

Outline your career to date

After I left school, I trained as a mechanic and then I opened my own garage business. I was young and naive then, and didn’t know the difference between loving working at cars and being in business. That lasted about 15 years during which time I became involved in the storage equipment industry installing Dexion products locally and then nationally.

I worked my way up through the ranks to end up with my own storage equipment business (which is another business that I still own and is still going strong). I started Todds Leap in the winter of 1989 when off-road driving and off-road racing were just becoming fashionable.

Tell us about your qualifications/training

As a mechanic by trade I was self-employed for many years. Recently I qualified as a level three Motor Engineer at South West College in Omagh having completed the course at night class. I have always been interested in Rough Terrain Vehicles and am a qualified Freelance Lantra Instructor covering a variety of 4x4 and all terrain vehicles. I am also qualified as a shotgun and rifle coach and a firearms technical officer. My father's skills in driving, which he taught me at a very young age, the experience I gained in running my own businesses, and my love of meeting new people, all combined to qualify me in the great game of life and make Todds Leap what it is today.

Did you always want to work in your chosen sector?

I knew when I was very young that I wanted to run an off-road driving centre, teaching people how to enjoy the skill of driving through impossible obstacles. Diversifying into other activities came naturally from this and we have managed to turn what was two small farm holdings into Ireland’s number one activity centre.

What qualities are required for your position — personal and professional?

I would say that you need to have a very thick skin along with lots of patience. Grit, determination and tenacity are also important to drive the company forward and recognise new opportunities. But the most important quality by far is gratitude. You must have gratitude and you should use it every day you are alive. What a wonderful opportunity life is — you’re not here for a long time, you’re just passing through.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

In business I admire Michael O’Leary for his ‘tell it as it is’ attitude. He has revolutionised the way that the airline industry |operates — if it wasn’t for |him and Stelios Haji-Ioannou we would still be getting ripped every time we get on a plane. On a personal level my late father has been a big influence on my business life and his phrase of, ‘You won’t get anything done lying in your bed’, has really helped me to have the work ethic I have today. He worked hard all his life and was a great provider for our family. I hope that can be said of me in years to come.

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