What we learned from 20 minutes with Richard Branson

The serial entrepreneur on the war on drugs, falling boulders, and Virgin's controversial working title

Sir Richard Branson is a difficult man to pin down. In the week before our interview, the serial entrepreneur wasn’t just in the news — he was the news. “Richard Branson receives star on Hollywood Walk of Fame”; “Richard Branson to launch new music festival in 2019”; “Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic is ‘weeks’ away from a launch”.

The headlines were a timely reminder of Sir Richard’s endless cascade of interests, energies and ventures. This, perhaps, is the genius of the Virgin brand. Like Sir Richard, it can happily apply itself to almost anything — music festivals, revolutionary moonshots and world-changing charities, all in a calendar week.

Sir Richard hasn’t just created a brand: he’s built an all-singing, all-dancing chameleon. And it’s one that’s set to take on a sparkling new colour in the coming months. Gentleman’s Journal caught up with your favourite entrepreneur’s favourite entrepreneur to discuss big plans, close calls, and the importance of having fun.

His company was nearly called something else entirely

What we learned from 20 minutes with Richard Branson

“When it comes to business, a great name can mean the difference between success and failure.” Branson says. “In the early days, we were actually nearly called something else. The leading contender was ‘Slipped Disc Records’.

“It would have worked brilliantly for the edgy record label we were, but not perhaps for “Slipped Disc Airlines” — that wouldn’t have worked! Thankfully we ended up choosing Virgin because we were all virgins in business at the time. We’ve never looked back.”

One of his biggest concerns is the war on drugs

“I believe it’s really important to stand up for what you believe in, especially in the face of adversity.” Sir Richard says. “I’ve campaigned all over the world on issues I care deeply about, from ending the war on drugs to prison reform and bringing an end to the death penalty.

“As a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy I’m a  rm believer that proper regulation and control of drugs is the most sensible way to deal with the problem. We should be testing drugs for safety; we should be removing the control of their distribution from criminals and placing them with governments.”

Virgin Galactic is very nearly ready for lift off

What we learned from 20 minutes with Richard Branson

“We’re tantalisingly close to achieving our ambition and I couldn’t be more excited, as I know the team are.” says Sir Richard. “They’ve all worked incredibly hard to get us to this point, our test sights are having more and more success. I hope to be able to share exciting news with the world very soon.”

He recently had a close encounter with some falling boulders

“Recently I was taking part in the Virgin Strive Challenge 2018 and hiking Mont Blanc in support of my children Holly and Sam and my nephew Noah’s charity, Big Change.” Sir Richard says. “It focuses on funding projects that encourage a growth mindset and projects which have the best possible impact on all young people.

“During the trek, the side of a cliff broke away, sending boulders the size of small cars bouncing towards the team I was hiking with. Rocks rained down on us from every angle, with one loudly clipping Sam’s helmet. Thankfully all of us came out of it shaken, but unscathed. These adventures are never without their purpose, though. This year the Strive Challenge raised more than £1m for Big Change, which everyone is very proud of.”

The best piece of advice he’s ever had came from his mum

What we learned from 20 minutes with Richard Branson

“She’s an exceptional woman. She said: ‘Never look back in regret — move on to the next thing.’ It’s served me well throughout my last 50 years in business.”

He believes culture is the most important thing to any business

“I’ve always believed in a positive work/ life balance and it’s something I eagerly encourage in all of our employees where it’s possible.” Branson tells us.

“You need to create the right environment, where people can feel they can challenge the norm and are comfortable to be who they want to be. I’ve always said: ‘Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’”

 

This interview was taken from the November/December issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe here.

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