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Photo: Terry and Dewitt Jones during one of their rare dual speaking engagements.
Dewitt Jones and his younger brother Terry have, in many ways, conquered the world. In his younger years, Dewitt bypassed Harvard Business School to join an adventurous group that kayaked more than 1,000 miles up the coast of Japan. He later lived—more like camped—for a year in Yosemite National Park, researching for books and films he would produce about the life of John Muir.
You can imagine the people he met and the scenery he explored in his two decades as a photographer for National Geographic, from 1972 to ’92. There were such daring assignments as a chopper dropping him off on an iceberg in Canada’s Yukon Territory “so I could photograph the chopper in front of a massive glacier for scale,” Dewitt says. “He picked me up before I floated away!”
Terry traveled the globe for a year after earning his degree at Ohio’s Denison University, visiting more than a dozen European and Asian countries before beginning his working life. He went on to computer sales in Florida until his company, SABRE, was bought out by American Airlines, based in Dallas. There, he founded Travelocity.com, for which he was Chief Executive Officer until 2002.
The brothers grew up on the north side of Chicago in the 1950s and early ’60s. They spent their childhood summers at a Canadian boys camp near Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. After incredibly successful careers that led them on very different paths, they are now in very similar positions: go-to guys for corporations seeking someone to motivate their employees and get them collectively thinking outside the business box. When you’re in demand as a public speaker, like the Jones brothers are, that means a lot of time spent on airplanes—and a lot of travel.
Suffice to say, the Joneses have seen a lot of the world, and even after seeing all those magnificent cityscapes and vistas the planet over, they’ve both chosen the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe to live out their golden years.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” Terry says. “I spent 25 years in Dallas very disconnected from the outdoors. That’s really what brought me here, and I fell in love with it.” Terry recently bought a 16-foot-long wherry rowboat for summer recreation, has taken up cross-country skiing in the winter, and likes to hike with his dog in the Tahoe Meadows year-round.
Dewitt was specifically drawn to the mountains. “I find the Sierra Nevada to be one of the most accessible mountain ranges in the world,” he says. “Once you get up on the granite, you could just go for miles. It’s magical to me.” And, although he didn’t think he’d care much for Stateline and South Lake Tahoe, he’s grown to love the entertainment scene there. “I have seen more great standup comedy and music in the last 10 years than I had in the previous 50,” he adds.
The Lake Tahoe era, if you will, in Dewitt’s life began in 2000. A leisurely trip to visit friends in the Zephyr Cove area turned into a spontaneous real estate transaction. “We were just going to look at some houses up there and ended up buying one on the first day,” he says.
Terry followed in 2003, first buying a house near South Lake Tahoe before eventually deciding on Incline Village. During his Lake Tahoe years, he helped found Kayak.com and served as chairman of the board for eight years. Kayak was recently sold to Priceline.com for $1.8 billion.
The two seem to have settled down quite nicely on the eastern side of the most beautiful alpine lake in America, but they haven’t showed signs of slowing down. When Terry spoke at the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held in December at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, it was on the heels of the release of his book, On Innovation. “The book talks about culture, team, and idea selection,” Terry says. “It also talks about how to build a culture in a big organization or a little one.” Jones’ presentation is unique because it uses multiple slides and maintains an upbeat tempo throughout, meshing well with the innovation theme.
In his presentations, Dewitt combines stories from his National Geographic years with his extraordinary photographs to teach both creativity and vision. Using metaphors from photography, he asks the audience to consider: What are the blocks to our thinking, and how can we look at things from different angles?
Twice, both times in Las Vegas, the Joneses have integrated their congruent philosophies. “Occasionally we speak together,” Terry says. “Dewitt will open on creativity, and I’ll close about innovation. So it’s how to get an idea and then how to put that idea work.” The two have their third dual speaking engagement coming up in July in Pebble Beach, California.
Terry is putting the finishing touches on a vanity book (not for sale) called On Travel and is authoring a third, On Digital Relationships, which is scheduled to be available this summer. He recently retired as chairman of the popular theatrical summer event, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, which is scheduled to showcase “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Sand Harbor starting July 12.
Dewitt, who also resides in Molokai, Hawaii, has authored or co-authored nine books and has a number of training films to his credit. If they can fit it in—and there’s no reason to believe they can’t—the brothers would like to create a film together. “We like to collaborate,” Terry says.
“It’s OK to fail; you pick yourself up and try again until you get it right. Leaders have to understand that what they say and do has a lot to do with what they get. If they’re accepting of change, then their people will be. It’s the 10 percent of the radical ideas in your company that are going to produce most of the revenue.”
“Taking the uniqueness and expressing it digitally; that’s how you’re going to get more people to come here. You have to have the content, but you have to distribute the content. You have to build a social following. People take recommendations from the web.”
“People use their smart phones for every part of tourism now. People are exploring more. They’re going to places they’ve never been before because we share it on Facebook, they find out through TripAdvisor, and they have all these tools that they’ve never had before. It’s changed the way we shop and buy travel.”
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On Innovation, by Terry Jones
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