Sir Richard Branson’s empire is atypical of today’s multi-billionaire power players. Like fellow billionaire magnate Bill Gates he dropped out of high school, however unlike Gates he shows a boyish cheekiness and a niche for making a fool of himself for a worldwide audience. He was born on the 18th of July, 1950 in Surrey England to parents Edward, a barrister, and Eve who was a flight attendant. Early in his life, he was diagnosed with dyslexia and struggled during his schooling years. Eventually he dropped out at the age of 16 and started his own youth-culture magazine called ‘Student’. Building on this, he was eventually able to build Virgin Records through which he signed among other acts: The Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones making it one of the top record companies in the world. Currently, Branson’s Virgin group holds more than 200 companies as he continually looks to expand. His latest ventures include Virgin Galactic which is a space tourism venture. I recently came across one of his interviews for The West Australian who posed some intriguing questions for him. Branson ventures to share some life philosophies that he has learned given the challenges he has had to face. In the interview with The West Australian, Branson was forthright in his outlook on life and what he thinks are the best lessons he has learned so far.
Wise words worth sharing:
What is the best advice you ever got?
Three gems come to mind. First, an enduring one from my mother Eve, who always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project amazes me. I have had fun running all of the Virgin businesses, so I never see a set back as a bad experience; it is just a learning curve. My mother also told me not to openly criticize other people. If she heard me speaking ill of someone, she would make me stand in front of the mirror for five minutes and stare at myself. Her reasoning? All my critical talk was a poor reflection on my own character. In the 1980s, Freddie Laker, the British Airline executive gave me a great piece of advice on setting up my own airline. He told me two key things: “You will never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive.” He also wisely said: “Make sure you appear on the front page and not the back pages.” I’ve followed that advice ever since. I’ve been very visible and made a fool of myself on more than one occasion!
In your career you have had lots of successes, but you have failed in some businesses. What have you learnt from those?
As an entrepreneur you have to learn very quickly that there’s no such thing as a failure. Looking back on Virgins history, our ability to adapt quickly to changes has helped mitigate reverses. You must be quick to accept that something is not going well and either change tack or close the business. We run our companies lean and small; there is very little red tape and certainly no bureaucracy. We make and implement decisions quickly – usually before our competitors in the market have held their fifth meeting on the same issue. Though I believe in taking the risks, I also firmly believe in “protecting the downside.” This means working out in advance all the things that could go wrong and making sure you have all eventualities covered. We have come close to failure many times. Most entrepreneurs skirt close to it. I nearly failed when Virgin was in its infancy, I nearly failed in the early 1980s and of course I have nearly died more than once trying to achieve world records for boating or ballooning. But through a combination of luck and planning, Virgin and I are still here.