Sir Richard Branson: "I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new."


The 20-something Richard Branson racked up a resumé that would impress no one. He was a high-school dropout with poor reading and math skills, a long-haired, barefooted hippie and had a struggling business that led to two arrests and a night in jail on suspicion of tax evasion.At the age of 60, he was ranked as the 236th richest person in 2008, according to Forbes. He has put his Virgin brand on independent businesses in the airline, hospitality, space travel and financial industries, to name a few. A humanitarian, environmentalist and adventurer, he was knighted for his services to entrepreneurship.

His long struggle for going big is truly inspiring. As founder of the Virgin empire, Branson never lost his vision for success. Perseverance, imagination and courage sustained his transformation. His family nurtured his independence and entrepreneurial spirit; however, many of his strengths were born out of struggles. Dyslexia, for instance, made reading and understanding some concepts painfully difficult. Even today, he says he doesn’t trust numbers. “I don’t complicate my life with financial reports,” he says, laughing. But he compensated for what he lacked by exceeding in other areas, developing extraordinary people skills and learning to trust his instincts.

As entrepreneurs struggle in today’s economy to throw off the negativity and rekindle the bold spirit that fueled their passion in the first place, Branson has this advice: “Obstacles and challenges are healthy for everyone, not just entrepreneurs. They force you to think outside the box, so to speak—to be creative. The challenge is to follow through on a great idea. I think if [you’ve] got a great idea, you need to just give it a try.”

Today, the Virgin Group is an eclectic empire of more than 200 diverse companies that run independently with different shareholders and boards, yet share the brand, as well as the resources and collective knowledge and experience of others at Virgin.

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new,” he had said. Branson believes in empowering talent to flourish, providing freedom and minimizing bureaucracy to foster creativity.

In a new venture to encourage entrepreneurship, Branson launched PitchTV in March, as part of Virgin Atlantic’s 25th anniversary celebrations. The show will air the video pitches of wannabe entrepreneurs onboard and online. Virgin Atlantic’s business travelers, many of them executives, will see the pitches, and each year, Branson will select a favorite with a yet-undisclosed prize for the winner.

Branson remains mindful of his own entrepreneurial beginnings, as well as the fact that great ideas from up-and-comers help fuel the Virgin Group today. He always believes that one key to entrepreneurial success is to “get a great group of people around you who believe in your idea.” Just as he had his family’s support from his childhood to his earliest business ventures to his space flights today, Branson aims to provide encouragement and inspiration for other entrepreneurs. But, he says, the ultimate reward for an entrepreneur is individual and personal.

“Entrepreneurship is business’s beating heart. Entrepreneurship isn’t about capital; it’s about ideas. Entrepreneurship is also about excellence. Not excellence measured in awards or other people’s approval, but the sort that one achieves for oneself by exploring what the world has to offer.”

Truly business Branson style!

- Madalsa Singh


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