SIR Richard Branson, the Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group is a legendary business icon and serial entrepreneur. With a charismatic personality and an extraordinary business acumen, he has made countless headlines during his four decades in business.
Once a high-school dropout, today Branson is the 4th richest man in the United Kingdom – with a net worth of US$ 4.2 billion, and one of the 10 most influential people in the world, with 21 million followers on social media across five social networks.
Branding himself as an entrepreneur who plays hard and works hard, he is the recipient of numerous awards including The BrandLaureate Legendary Award in 2015. Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for “Services to Entrepreneurship” in March 2000.
Indeed, it was an exciting opportunity to see this business magnate, philanthropist, and lifestyle guru on the GTF stage, being interviewed by CNN International anchor and reporter Richard Quest — sharing his business ideas and philosophy with the audience.
During his stage appearance, Branson, 64, appeared a bit laid back, but as business magnate who has done and seen it all, he deserves the lifestyle of his choice, whilst remaining passionate in business, and outspoken on social issues.
Currently, he lives on Necker Island with his wife Joan, has two children, Holly and Sam, and three grandchildren, Artie, Etta Belle and Eva Deia.
BRANDING IN BUSINESS
Earlier on during his session, Branson introduced the basics of entrepreneurship and said: “I think, it is important to realise for most entrepreneurs not to think how can I run a business and make lots of money, “I would highly recommend to create something out of the frustration of others — to simply come up with an idea to improve people’s lives, and hopefully at the end of the month, more money will come in than go out.”
“Your Brand and your reputation is all you have. Get your Brand on the map. Make sure your business is doing something unique!” said Branson on stage, which perhaps sums up his branding and business philosophy.
In his autobiography, ‘ Losing My Virginity’ (1998), Branson wrote about how he started from humble beginnings with Virgin Records music store, which evolved into the Virgin Group with more than 400 branded companies in 50 countries and 60,000 employees in different niches — including mobile telephony, travel and transportation, financial services, leisure and entertainment, health and wellness, with branded companies such as Virgin Megastores and Virgin Atlantic Airways.
The book became an international best-seller, and earned him critical acclaim.
During the session, there was a short documentary with video snippets of his early days.
Since age 16, Branson already found entrepreneurial ways to promote positive change in the world by starting a youth culture magazine called Student.
He is also known for his adventurous spirit and sporting achievements by participating in the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing, a series of hot air balloon journeys and kitesurfing across the Channel, besides spearheading space-tourism through Virgin Galactic – the world’s first commercial space line, which he claimed to be “the greatest adventure of all.”
NO VENTURE, NO GAIN
Of course, every journey comes with risks and misadventures. He famously capsized, and had to be rescued while attempting the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing in 1985, while his three attempts at circling the globe in a hot air balloon failed.
Recounting his journey, he said: “There were definitely moments and adventures that I thought if I get out of this I’ll never do it again. I’ve been fortunate to survive and life has definitely been richer for it.”
“British people in particular don’t mind people who try things, and I would hate to be sitting in front of television watching other people do a lot of wonderful things that I have the chance to do in my life!” he added.
Talking about danger, we are reminded of the fatal crash of VSS Enterprise, a Virgin Galactic experimental spaceflight at Mojave Desert, California on Oct 31, 2014, which killed the test pilot.
Branson said: “It was a deeply saddening accident.” Although investigations proved it was a pilot error, he was prepared to give up the project to prevent further mishaps, but his team urged him to carry on, to fulfill his long awaited dream of commercial spaceflight, hopefully by end of the year.
In fact, a Chinese gentleman sitting at the front row said he had pre-booked a seat for USD$200,000 and was asking about his flight confirmation, which got the audience laughing.
When Quest asked whether Branson would take a space flight in his own spacecraft, he hesitated and said he certainly would, however, he will would only allow his family onboard later (when it is safer).
Branson empathized with Malaysians for losing three aircrafts and hundreds of lives within two years, due to air disasters, including the infamous flight MAS MH370 which is still missing.
Branson said Group CEO of AirAsia Tan Sri Tony Fernandes has done the right thing by showing great leadership and responsibility by visiting the crash site of Indonesian AirAsia flight 8501, to give his moral support to the victim’s families.
During the fatal incident on December 28, 2014, 162 people onboard were killed when the plane crashed into the Java sea.
On a lighter note, Quest asked Branson about the bet which he lost to Fernandes in 2013, and had to dress up as a female flight attendant on an AirAsia flight, complete with lipstick and a red skirt.
It was a funny and “embarrassing stunt” he had to endure after losing a bet to Fernandes, who had a wager that his Formula One racing team Lotus would finish ahead of Branson’s Virgin team.
However, Branson showed good sportsmanship but took sweet revenge by spilling a tray of drinks on Fernandez, and hoping to get sacked.
When not wearing his business hat, Branson is an outspoken social activist who champions the cause of the less fortunate.
In 2004, he established a non-profit foundation Virgin Unite to tackle tough social and environmental issues and strives to make business a force for good.
He said business leaders should speak up on such issues, when governments are failing to perform as they should.
One social issue that is close to his heart is drug addiction.
Branson said drug addiction is not a crime but a disease, and people need help, not punishment. He abhors leaders and governments who takes drastic measures to stamp out these problem without understanding underlying circumstances.
The same goes for LGBT, as one in eight children are born with such tendencies, and should not be scorn and rejected by society. He even spoke reprehensibly against American President Donald Trump, as a wrong candidate for the job because of his “unforgiving nature.”
“I think it is important for principled business leaders to actually speak out against these individuals, and it is sad that society has someone so vindictive with such a powerful position in the White House,” he added.
Moving forward, the Virgin founder explains why his work will never be done even although the Virgin domination continues to span the globe. “What keeps me going is my sense of mission, and the strange thing is, mine is an impossible one,
“When I started out, I was always driven by the desire to change things for the better,
“Over time, as we learn more about business and entrepreneurship, our mission begin to come into focus. We wanted to create a better world, where businesses are driven by a strong sense of purpose that balances their needs with those of people and the planet,
“We were able to break it down into the common goal that all Virgin businesses rally behind — to use our entrepreneurial spirit and resources to disrupt and reinvent every sector we’re in, transforming the way everyone does business along the way,” the Virgin Way.