Sir Richard Branson, an inveterate adventurer is a man of many passions. He is best known for his Virgin brand of some 400 companies. From a chain of record stores, Virgin Records, the Virgin brand grew rapidly during the 1980s, as he set up Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile…Virgin Galactic just successfully completed its fifth supersonic test, an exciting milestone that will see him achieve his dream of the first commercial space flight in history. He has devoted billions of dollars to reviving the ecology and is one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. He is a man of his word. And that means everything in my view. He appeared in the last Quest special on PBS, Quest for Success.
“In most things I do, we are the David versus the Goliath.
At least if you’re doing something you’re committed about, you’ve got a chance. Well, I think it’s about having fun in life, being the David rather than being the Goliath. In most things I do, we are the David versus the Goliath. It’s actually easier in some ways being the David, in that you’re more nimble, you can move quicker, you can make quicker decisions, and hopefully you can bring down the Goliath. If you don’t survive, it’s not the end of the world. You know, pick yourself up and try again. So don’t be too frightened about failure.
If someone wants to have a fun life and do something similar to the life I’ve led, they could achieve it. And I suppose I’ve been fortunate in life to have done some magnificent adventures, as well as being an entrepreneur, and I think that being an adventurer is not that dissimilar to being an entrepreneur. You’re setting out to do something that man’s never done before, you’re setting out to do it better. And then we’ve made many attempts at trying to be the first to go around the world, and we had magnificent adventures.
I think the most successful entrepreneurs are people that do things contrary to opinion. The standard business school advice is stick with your onions. At Virgin we love the challenge of becoming a way of life brand, moving into and challenging businesses in a lot of different areas. And it’s a lot more fun for us doing that. We learn a lot more, we meet more people. And if one business is suffering from competition, or new technology, another one of our businesses can do well.
I think the most successful people are people who do not sit down and think, “how can I make a fortune?” It’s people who have a passion for something. I love music, so I found a particular band that I loved the music of, and that band, we couldn’t get anybody else to put their music out, so I decided to form a record company. Now, the end product of signing bands like the Rolling Stones, and Genesis and Janet Jackson and the like, was wealth. But that was not where I got my satisfaction. I got my satisfaction from creating a great record company that I was proud of. But if I’d actually gone into it because I thought I was going to make good money, I don’t think I would have made a penny.
The most important thing, if you’re a father, or if you’re a business leader, is to know how to lavish praise, to look for the best in people. To be good with people, to inspire people, not to criticize people. And I suspect that’s the number one most important thing in a leader. If you end up criticizing people all the time, people shrivel up. If you praise people, people expand.