Sir Richard Branson Interview

This man needs no introduction. We have the honour to present an interview with Sir Richard Branson…

Where in the world do you spend most of your time?

I live on Necker Island most of the time and travel a lot. About 80% of my time is dedicated to Virgin Unite, the Virgin Group’s not for profit foundation, where we try to unite entrepreneurial ideas and great people together in order to make people’s lives better.

We interviewed international DJ Carl Cox in the Student Pocket Guide, and he specifically mentioned he’d love to host a party on SpaceShipOne! Is this possible?

[Laughs] That would be the party of a lifetime!

As a kid, did you ever dream about becoming an astronaut?

I have always wanted to be an astronaut and go into space. Looking back at Earth from space must be an incredible experience. Only 500 people have been up into space in history, and not only do I hope to join this list of astronauts, but also make it possible for many other people join it as well.

Is it true that you are looking into a space hotel?

It’s a possibility! Stephen Hawking wanted us to colonise Mars or the Moon, which could eventually happen, and so could a hotel in space.

What excites you more: entering space, or into the depths of the ocean?

Both space and the ocean offer fascinating possibilities for exploring the unknown. Amazingly, we know more about space than our ocean! That said, I believe that the ever-growing possibilities of space have more transformative potential than the ocean to improve people’s lives. Both are important, but the chance of exploring totally new planets like Mars tops the ocean for me.

Where do you get your inspiration and drive from?

Everywhere! Wherever I go, I make sure I have a notebook in my back pocket. You never know when you are going to meet somebody and have a conversation sparking a great business idea.

My business drive remains the same as it did over 40 years ago when I started my first business, Student magazine. I believe business can and should be used to improve people’s lives, such as Student which gave young people a voice on issues they were passionate about like the Vietnam War, and that keeps me motivated.

In your opinion, is being a successful entrepreneur in your blood, or something which can be taught or picked up?

Everyone is born an entrepreneur and needs mentoring to get to where they’re going. Dr Muhammad Yunus said “All human beings are born as entrepreneurs. But unfortunately, many of us never had the opportunity to unwrap that part of our life, so it remains hidden.”

In my experience, many young people have in them an entrepreneurial spirit and they display exceptional drive. But each of them needs support on their journey. There are some great entrepreneurs out there. With a little help and nurturing, they really will go on to make a difference in their chosen field.

What do you think are the top 3 requirements to become a successful entrepreneur?

First and foremost, a successful business must have a sound knowledge of its market and work on how its product or service will be different, stand out, and improve people’s lives. If you can ensure it responds to a real need out there in the market place, your business can punch well above its weight.

Secondly, I am a great believer that you need passion and energy to create a truly successful business. Remember: many new businesses do not make it – and running a business will be a tough experience, involving long hours and many hard decisions – it helps to have that passion to keep you going.

Lastly, you must have the courage to take risks.We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Success is a lousy teacher.

Any advice to students reading this interview thinking of starting a business?

Get out there and do it. Starting your own business is a lot of hard work so make sure you are passionate about whatever that business is trying to achieve or address. This way, you will stick with it through the tough times and improve the odds of it becoming a success.

I’ve read that you have over 400 companies under the Virgin Group brand. What kind of input do you have nowadays, considering the vast size of the organisations?

Today we actually have more like 60 operational businesses and over 400 legal entities. It is still a lot and I try to stay on top of all of the companies, but fortunately I have a fantastic team of leaders running the business’ day to day operations. I learnt a long time ago that I couldn’t do everything myself and needed to get great people in to delegate responsibility to. It is this delegation that allows me to dedicate 80% of my time to Virgin Unite.

Are you a workaholic, or do you manage to clock off?

I work hard, and play hard. Having a good work-life balance is incredibly important, and at Virgin we are embracing flexible working. Recently we have abolished holiday caps at Virgin Management and if an employee would like to work from home one day for personal reasons they should be allowed to, as long as they get their work done. I’ve never really worked from an office.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in business?

Delegation and the importance of getting the right people for the job. You can’t do everything yourself.

Can you tell us a funny story about yourself?

I paid the price for a Grand Prix bet I had lost with Tony Fernandez in 2011. At that time, both Tony and I had an airline business as well as a Formula One team. We bet that whoever’s Formula One team did better than the other’s, the loser would have to dress up and work as an air stewardess on the victor’s airline. In the end I lost the bet and had to dress up as an Air Asia stewardess and serve drinks on a six hour flight for charity.

What’s been the best prank you’ve ever played?

The best prank would have to be the ‘BA can’t get it up’ PR stunt in 1999. I was woken at 5.30 am and told that British Airways were having technical issues erecting the London Eye so we flew a blimp over the eye which read “BA CAN’T GET IT UP”.