Kevin Ernest Weldon AM (born 1933) is an Australian book publisher, businessman, aviator and philanthropist.
In the field of science and education he is a founder of Earthwatch Australia, a voluntary organisation supporting scientific research expeditions as well as promoting Indigenous education through the establishment of Gwinganna, located on the Gold Coast hinterland, as a study centre. He has served on variety of committees and boards, including Powerhouse Museum (Sydney) and the Institute of Aboriginal Studies (Canberra). He is the founding president of World Lifesaving organisation and is currently an active member of the President's Board of National Council of Surf Lifesaving Association of Australia.
On 10 June 1994, Weldon was honoured as a member of the Order of Australia for his philanthropy, contribution to water safety as president of World Life Saving, and service to the publishing industry.
Weldon is married with three children.
Weldon was born in 1933 in the small town of Ingham, Queensland, the youngest of five children. His father, Vivian, was the local Ford dealer. At the outbreak of World War II, the family relocated to Brisbane, where he spent many days as a child scouring the shores of the Brisbane River.
At age 15, he joined the Pacific Surf Club as a Cadet, which would cement his interest in the surf lifesaving movement.
Weldon studied at the Brisbane Grammar School but in 1949, when his mother died suddenly, he left school early. He later enrolled in college two nights a week, where he learnt his first trade of colour etching.
Early success (1953–1962)
Weldon began his career at Brisbane's Truth newspaper as a half-tone colour etcher in the process engraving department. It was there he was taught by his first boss, Horrie Hogarth, two guiding principles, "never compromise on quality; and, allow workers now and then to spend time with the boss." Despite the brevity of his tenure at Truth, Hogarth had an indelible impact on Weldon during these formative years.
Shortly thereafter, driven by his enduring fascination for all things maritime, he joined the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, a decision that was to have a major effect in charting the course of his life. Rising rapidly through the ranks he received his commission as a lieutenant in 1956. During this period he also became acquainted with Tony Pixley and thus began the next phase of his career, "He and I got on and his family was well known in the Brisbane business community. They had an agency for Grenville Publishing and they gave me a job selling books.”
By 1957 at the age of 24, Weldon had set up a new branch of Grenville Publishing in Queensland and employed a staff of eight. Two years later he was appointed general manager of sales and moved to Sydney where in 1963 he published his first book, Cake Decorating and Icing by Beryl Gertner; it proved to be a resounding success, selling 25,000 copies (a best-seller during this period was around 5,000). This was quickly followed by the equally popular best seller, Collecting Australian Gemstones.
Seizing the initiative (1964–79)
In 1964 Weldon became the founding managing director of the Paul Hamlyn Group in Australia. Employing aggressive marketing strategies he published a string of best-sellers, including launching Australia's Heritage partworks. This transpired to be the most successful publishing venture Australia had seen to date, with 7.8 million units sold over a two-year period. Weldon's marketing success earned him the Hoover Award.
Another initiative he undertook was the launch of Music for Pleasure, Australia's first budget record company, and he became responsible for introducing music into supermarkets, namely Woolworths and Coles. The secret to the company's success was repackaging old records and advertising them on television (a repackaged Johnny Cash album sold 120,000 albums in just two weeks whilst a Simon & Garfunkel album sold a quarter of a million copies). Meanwhile in 1971 he became president of the World Life Saving Movement.
The following year he established Australia's first large scale animation studio, a joint venture with Hanna-Barbera – the creators of such hits as Yogi Bear and the Flintstones. The venture, known as Hanna-Barbera Australia, evolved into Neil Balnaves's Southern Star Group. Not only did he increase the company holdings, acquiring Australian publishers Lansdowne Press (Melbourne), Ure Smith (Sydney), and Jacaranda (Brisbane), but he steadfastly continued to build a best-selling list in Australia and developed local publishing lists in New Zealand and the Philippines. Additionally, he expanded the Heritage partworks to include the Wildlife series both nationally and internationally, he developed a prestigious limited edition list and curated a significant library of rare Australian books. In 1979 Weldon resigned from Paul Hamlyn.
Out on his own (1980–89)
In 1980, Weldon, an astute and intuitive businessman, formed his own company, Kevin Weldon & Associates and launched a successful publishing list. He garnered instant success with A Day in the Life of Australia and the concept became one of this country's greatest publishing exports; subsequent volumes have been produced on India, China, Africa, the Soviet Union and the United States. The next few years saw him enter the local US market with joint ventures, notably in Texas, as well as guiding the takeover of British publisher Marshall Cavendish by Straits Times, Singapore. His brief tenure as chairman of Marshall Cavendish led it to a record profit of €6 million the following year. Meanwhile he founded Earthwatch in Australia, a voluntary body to fund scientific research expeditions, and Weldon consolidated his success with the publication of The Macquarie Dictionary, a definitive work that is now the undisputed arbiter of the Australian language. In 1984, together with John Owen, Weldon founded Weldon Owen Publishing. The first US office was set up in Seattle, Washington in 1988 and subsequently moved to San Francisco a year later.
He also entered into a joint venture with major newspaper groups John Fairfax Ltd (Sydney) and David Syme Ltd (Melbourne) for a major bicentennial work, Australians: a historical library. In 1985 he purchased 50 per cent of the Paul Hamlyn Group (Australia) with James Hardie Industries Ltd and snapped up the balance three years later. He proceeded to change the company name to Weldon International. Retail sales had increased by about $10 million a year and Weldon continued to diversify, taking an interest in films; he developed complementary book products including Wall of Iron and Over China. More importantly, he initiated a policy of devolution in which Weldon International was formed into relatively small, creative publishing and marketing units, which operated independently with a responsibility for profitability to a small executive centre. No territorial limits were imposed on any of the companies, encouraging export. Thus, he catalysed a vigorous offshore drive that resulted in Weldon International exports accounting for 55 per cent of Australia's total export of book products.
Breaking boundaries (1990-2000s)
The group's policy of devolution delivered growth, particularly in offshore activity. Weldon International rose to 183rd of Australia's top 500 exporters. Publishing companies of Weldon International were now firmly established in the US and UK and the Weldon policy of devolution continued as spin-off publishing activity warranted. Local and US educational publishing for elementary schools became so successful that it was reorganised for marketing overseas through jointly-owned marketing companies in US and UK. Mimosa also became active in Canada, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and South Africa, producing national commemorative books for governments in Singapore, China, US and Indonesia. Meanwhile, his philanthropic activities continued with the establishment of Gwinganna in the Gold Coast hinterland for Indigenous study groups. Moreover, he became founding president of newly formed International Lifesaving Federation. The Federation included over sixty member countries and over 25 million members, amalgamating the world's three largest water-safety organisations. For his service to the publishing industry and to water safety, Weldon received the Order of Australia on 10 July 1994.
In 2010 Weldon returned to Australian publishing with the launch of his new publishing company, Australia's Heritage Publishing. The first title, the Signature Edition of The Macquarie Encyclopedic Dictionary, was released in January 2011, marking 30 years since Weldon first published The Macquarie Dictionary.
Weldon attributes much of his success to his activities in the lifesaving movement. He joined the Pacific Surf Club as a fifteen-year-old cadet during the 1948–49, and within a year attained the position of social organiser. He rose rapidly through the ranks, holding the posts of vice-captain, captain, chief instructor and ultimately president. Throughout this period Pacific flourished, becoming one of this most reputable clubs in the state. Moreover, the club accrued large parcels of surrounding land through Weldon's drive and initiative, borrowing money from the bank, and then organising the sale of chooks through hotels to pay off the debt. Still a trustee of the club and living in Sydney, Weldon has continued guiding the club and promoting its commercial viability.
In 1970, having been the Queensland delegate to the National Council of Surf Lifesaving, Weldon was approached to form an international lifesaving group. Though honoured, Weldon only accepted on the proviso that it would be truly international, with the headquarters moved around the world. Because of this a great number of innovations were brought to Australia's beaches. The 'rubber ducky' inflatable rescue boats, torpedo rescue tubes and the use of helicopters in surf rescue were all ideas that came from other countries. Ideas shared through what became known as World Lifesaving.
In the 1990s Weldon was instrumental in uniting World Lifesaving with both professional lifeguard associations and pool life savers. The International Life Saving Federation is now the second largest voluntary organisation in the world after the Red Cross. Throughout the years he has helped to raise literally millions of dollars for life saving in Australia and around the world.
- "About Us". Weldon Owen Publishing. Retrieved 17 January 2013.