From Drop-out to Billionaire: Richard Branson's Empire | E203 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "From Drop-out to Billionaire: Richard Branson's Empire | E203".
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- You do think about it, is it selfish? Is it worth it? Is it something? - So, - Sir Richard Branson. - Richard Branson is one of the most fun loving and adventurous billionaires in the world. - He's conquered our skies, blasted off into space. - The entrepreneurs, entrepreneur, the marketers, marketer. - In the school of business, they said focus. - By the age of 33, you've got 50 different companies. You kind of break that law, it seems. - If we'd stayed still and only focused on one business, we wouldn't have a business today. We're still going strong 55 years later. If you get the little details right, makes for an exceptional company over an average company. We were the first airline to introduce seatback videos in the world, sleeper seats for business class passengers. We've always been ahead of the pack. The airline's been bullied by British Airways, famously through the Dirty Tricks campaign. The best always succeeds. - As if all of that you'd done before wasn't enough, you decided to aim for the stars. - We're going to space. - Looking back at this beautiful, beautiful Earth that we live on, I was floating. It was a dream come true. You know, we're still at the early stage of space travel, and there's still risks. - We're set apart. - One pilot has died after a passenger spaceship crashed. - Everything that we'd built up looked like it was crashing down. - What impact does that have on you and your mission? - You've got to continue. - Before this episode starts, I have a small favor to ask from you. Two months ago, 74% of people that watched this channel didn't subscribe. We're now down to 69%. My goal is 50%. So if you've ever liked any of the videos we've posted, if you liked this channel, can you do me a quick favor and hit the subscribe button? It helps this channel more than you know, and the bigger the channel gets, as you've seen, the bigger the guests get. Thank you and enjoy this episode. - Richard, having spent the last 24 hours reading both your autobiographies, but also your new HBO docu series, Eve, your mother, she felt like a really, really extraordinarily principled and strong character.
Life Journey And Business Endeavors
Your parents (02:07)
And in the docu series, you actually say that you didn't realize how much she had influenced you on becoming the entrepreneur. You are today. What was it that she was doing, pushing out the car at five years old and making you walk home? But what were those principles that underlined her approach? - So, I mean, she was one of the sort of first entrepreneurs around, really. I mean, not, you know, not a particularly successful one, but she was making table mats and cutting out pretty pictures from books and turning them into, pictures that she would then take to Harrods or Harvey Nichols, interestingly, and I didn't realize this until I saw it in some letters that she'd written to me. And, you know, working from a phone box in London. And that was her office, just like my office had been later on working from a phone box at school. But, yeah, so she would never stop. She was an idea, idea a minute, always trying to, you know, better our lives better and always trying to create things that she could be proud of. - When was she most proud of you in terms of what kind of behaviors or achievements would make her most happy when you were young? - She, yeah, she was fairly, yeah, she was, she was fairly firm when it came to the need for, you know, being courteous from a young age. And I remember in church one day, I refused to go and sit next to somebody that she wanted me to sit next to, who was maybe visiting our house. And when I got home, she asked my dad to spank me and that had never happened before and my dad takes me into the living, into the next all room and instructs me to burst into tears and he slaps his hands together very hard six times. I come out rubbing my bum. But then of course she regretted having done it in the first place, but of course it never happens. - And you know, she, she, you know, she, she, she, she, she, she, generally speaking, it was unreserved love, but she, she wanted us to care for other people properly. You know, if we ever said ill about somebody, we'd be sent to the mirror and we'd have to stand there for 10 minutes because it, you know, she felt it reflected so badly on us that we'd said ill of somebody. And you know, those sort of lessons, I think were very, very powerful and very good later on in life when I was, you know, leading people, always trying to look for the best in everybody. - One of the threads throughout your story, which shocked me, surprised me and inspired me in many ways throughout the docu series, was this continual desire to move on to the next thing and make things bigger and to capture another opportunity, which struck me as being at times like really defining character of you. You know, even when things seem to be successful by anyone's estimation, you pushed on again and then you'd push on again and again. Do you have any idea where that instinct or that characteristic came from in you? - I'm sure that came from my mum. I am son of Eve, which is my mum's name. But it's also, I think, because I was dyslexic and pretty hopeless at school, I've forever been trying to prove something to myself and prove something when she was alive to her and my dad. And I'm inquisitive, I just love learning about new things. And once I've actually absorbed everything there is to know about the thing I've just created, I'm apt to want to move on and learn something about something completely different. Particularly if I feel other people are not doing it well. And I just love diving in there and trying to shake up an industry that is badly run. - Do you think she and your father, even your father, Ted, had high hopes for you?
Your ability to always push forwards (07:27)
- I think that my mum definitely thought that I would be and yeah, she decided that I was going to be prime minister of Britain one day. And I think that, yeah, so she definitely had high hopes for me. My dad just wanted us to be happy. I mean, he was a very loveable content, funny, witty individual, wanted to be an archeologist, but ended up going into the law after the war and would have been happy, I think, as long as we were happy, he didn't really want to push us. But my mum, I think, expected more of this. - You mentioned school a few moments ago. You and me both have a similarity in that we were hopeless in school. You went off to boarding school at seven years old, which in and of itself is a pretty extreme experience for a seven year old. You described this as being a little bit too young in your view and you struggled in part because of your dyslexia. At the time, did you know what dyslexia was or what it meant? - No, I had no idea what dyslexia was. I just assumed that I must be a little bit thick. I mean, I could just about add up and subtract, but when it got to more complicated stuff, like algebra and geometry and the likes, I couldn't understand the reason for it. I wasn't interested in it. I couldn't understand why we were having to learn French when nobody seemed to ever actually speak it when they left school or Latin. And so I suppose in my head, I rebelled against being taught things that I couldn't see the relevance of. And actually that was a good thing 'cause it ended with me rebelling from actually staying at school and leaving school at 15 and creating a magazine, which to try to sort of address some of the issues in the world. - Your dyslexia, you've often highlighted that in many respects. It's been a superpower. It's given you skills that have led to your success. What is that? What are those skills and what is the advantage in your view of dyslexia and how that's changed, how you function and operate? - I think that, first of all, I'd like to say, I'm proud of being a dyslexic thinker and I'm delighted that dyslexic thinking is now becoming almost part of the vocabulary.
And I'm pleased to talk to many dyslexic kids over the years to try to make them realize that. Do not be worried about it. Look at the areas that you enjoy and concentrate on those and the areas that you're not great at. Either that you'll catch up later on in life or if you're gonna start a business, you can delegate and find other people who can deal with those. So I think dyslexic people really excel at the things that they have that interest them. And I think I know a lot of business people, for instance, who were dyslexics, who have gone on to do incredible things. - Your headmaster, I read the very slightly humorous, slightly shocking story of when you were at boarding school, you had a little bit of a romantic running with his daughter, Charlotte, got expelled, staged a fake suicide, got unexpelled. And then as you referenced a second ago, you had this idea for the student magazine. I read that there was an ultimatum given to you by your headmaster where he said, "Richard, I know you're starting this magazine. "You either got to leave school "or start the magazine or stay in school "and focus on your formal education." But at that point, you made the decision to jump ship. - Yeah, I mean, I don't think the headmaster was very foresighted. I think if a kid at school wants to start a national magazine for young people, what a great education. And they should have welcomed us to stay at school and do it within it from school. But the headmaster wasn't going to allow me to do that. And thank God, because getting out into the real world I achieved a lot more than I would have done if he'd been pleasant and said, "Run the magazine from school." There was a lot going on in the world. There was the Vietnamese war, there was the Biafran war, there were the Proverbs in Holland, there was the education system that needed students to rebel against. And so it was an exciting time in the '60s to leave school, go to London and try to start a magazine. - I watched your, as I watched your docu-series yesterday in that theater that we're all in, including yourself.
Starting a student magazine (13:06)
One of the lines really struck me, when they showed the small room that you were building this magazine in. I know sometimes it was a post box but sometimes there was a small room, I think at a later date. A line was said, which was, "This was my education." And for young people who are considering taking a leap when they have very little responsibility or think very little to lose, throwing themselves in that kind of, throwing themselves in a situation where they'll fail their way to an education, struck me as being so important and so underrated. You don't have kids or you don't have a house or a mortgage. And it seems like that's exactly what you did. You used failure and risk as a way to self-educate? - Yeah, I mean, it's difficult for me to recommend it to everybody listening to this program because not everyone's gonna be successful. And obviously you and I have been fortunate that we have had success doing it that way. Some people, and I'm gonna put my conservative hat on knowing that the parents may be listening as well. Some people will benefit from having an education degree or whatever to fall back on if they find that they just can't make a go of it in business. But anyway, I think for the two of us, I think being out in the real world, I mean, I learned so much. And it's held me into such good stead throughout my life. In running a magazine, of course, you're going out interviewing people, you're learning every time you interview somebody.
Using failure to self educate (14:51)
I think being a journalist or being an editor, you, it's not so different from being an entrepreneur. You're out all the time meeting new people in different sectors, just learning, learning, learning. And, you know, through the magazine, a lot of people would write with problems, young people would write with problems. So we ended up setting up a student advisory center where we would give people advice on venereal disease or gay population or contraceptive advice, abortion advice, psychiatric advice, you know, and, you know, just meeting all these people with all these different problems, suicidal, suicidal mental problems, really opened my mind. It was just a fascinating, fascinating education. And throughout my life, since then, I've spent a lot of my life trying to address some of these issues in a, first of all, in a wider sense in London and now more on a global scale. And, but that was, you know, that education was so important. You know, for instance, I remember when I was 15 in London, somebody who was gay came to me saying they wanted help and maybe I just turned 16. And I thought very naively that when they said they wanted help, you know, they didn't want to be gay. Of course, you know, within a month or two, I realized that, you know, that people are born gay and they don't have a choice in the matter. And what they desperately needed in those days was to meet other gay people and because, you know, if they came from some remote place in the UK where gay people weren't accepted, they would come to London desperately seeking love or seeking friendship. And so, you know, just little things like that, I learned from just being out there listening and doing. - That was, that magazine was your, the first sort of big notable thing that you'd done in business. And throughout your story, and even before I'd met you and watched the docu-series and read the book, I was told by other people, Richard Branson's, are a super, an amazing delegator. You mentioned it earlier on your delegation skills to understand how to delegate to someone else. You first, as you've said, need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and also their strengths and weaknesses. So what is, what are your strengths in your own words? What is the bit of the puzzle that you're good at? - I think I'm good with people. I think I can trust people. I think I can surround myself with, you know, with really, really good people. I think I'm able to, yeah, to delegate, to delegate not to second-guess them all the time. Yeah, to praise not to criticize. And I think I'm quite good at, if I create something, making sure it's the best in its area, so that the people who are working for Virgin are really proud of what they're doing. It's really important that, you know, if somebody's in a pub and they work for Virgin and somebody says what you do, that they're proud of the fact that, you know, they work for Virgin and they're happy to say it. And there are some companies that people work for.
What are you really good at? (19:04)
They weren't really wanted, able to say that they work for such and such a company. Yeah, so I think the people skills is the most important skill. I think, just giving things a try. You know, screw it, let's do it. Obviously it's one of the phrase I made two years ago. And I've used that phrase many, many a time. You know, somebody comes with an idea and I like them. And yeah, just say, you know, let's give it a go. And then, and sometimes we both, we all thought, fall flat in the face. Sometimes sometimes it succeeds. And conversely then, what are the weaknesses that you've kind of observed in yourself or the things that you tend to delegate to other people? I actually read something which said, which was a quote of yours that said, I wanted an IQ test at eight years old. I don't think I filled in anything. Going forward 30 or so years, I was running Europe's largest private group of companies, but I didn't know the difference between gross and net profit, but it didn't matter. Yes, I was in a board meeting when I was about 50 years old and and the director said, and I think I said, is that good news or bad news? And one of the directors said, come outside Richard a minute. So came outside and he said, you don't know the difference between that and gross to you. So I said, no. He said, I thought not anyway, I brought a sheet of papers. He brings out the sheet of paper and he has some color pens and he colors it in blue and then he puts a fishing net in it and then he puts a little fish in the fishing net and he says, so the fish that are in the net, that's your profit at the end of the year and the rest of the ocean, that's your gross turnover. And I went, I got it. I was ever, ever since then I've been name dropping net and gross to people who've obviously no full of full well-wanted history. And then, but the point of the story is it really doesn't matter. I mean, it's a good idea most likely if your, your chief accountant knows. But for somebody who's running a company, what matters is can you, you know, can you create the best, the best company in its sector? You know, if you're going to create an airline, is it going to be palpably better than the rival airline? If you create a cruise company, is it going to be palpably better than the other cruise companies? If you're going to create a train company, is it going to be palpably better than what's gone before? And if it is, then at the end of the year, it's likely that more money that will come in than goes out. And then somebody, you know, somebody else can add up the figures. So I think, you know, to be, to run a business, you know, yes, it helps to add up, it helps to subtract, it helps to multiply. I don't even think you need to worry about division. That's it. So, you know, so if you can do those three things, you can run a business. If you can't do those three things, I wouldn't worry too much. You find somebody else you can and just go out and create something that's going to make a positive difference to other people's lives. That student magazine became kind of pivoted at the end into a mail order music business, which is a big part of the docu series that we watched yesterday. But then it became so many more things. And it's the interesting thing is kind of how you swing from one of these business ideas to the next, because you'd seen a product or service that you thought could be done better or there was an opportunity there. When I, you know, in the School of Entrepreneurship, if that's like a metaphorical thing, we always talk about the importance of focus. Now, when I look at your story from 15 years old, starting that magazine to starting a mail order business around, I think 22 years old when Virgin was kind of conceptualized and launched. And then by the age of 33, you've got 50 different companies involving everything from filmmaking to conditioner cleaning and generating more than $10 million in sales. I go, this is not what they told me about the need for focus in the School of Business. They said focus, you kind of break that law, it seems, of focus. - So I've never really thought of myself as a business person. Obviously, on paper, I am an entrepreneur or a business person. I've never really been interested in the bottom line despite what the docu series seems to betray. I really have been interested in creating things I can be proud of. And a lot of those things come out of personal frustration and I must be frustrated quite a lot when I was young because I ended up trying a lot of things. And I just found it great fun investing in people I met.
You break the law of focus in business (24:40)
Somebody will come along and the music business may have been struggling at one stage in my career with the advent of the iPod. And a couple of guys come along and say, you should do mobile phones. This would replace the music business. And they were great, great people. And so we thought screw it, let's do it. Let's go into mobile phone business. And so if we'd stayed still and only done, only focused on one business, maybe let's say the record business, and let's say record stores, which was one of our earlier things. We wouldn't have a business today because the megastores and record stores no longer exist because the iPod and free music really put them out of business. So by actually going against the rules of what you learn in business school, we're still going strong in a 55 years later. And diversification actually saved us. I mean, during COVID, Virgin Atlantic and very badly hit companies was saved by being able to sell Virgin Galactic shares. So diversification is far more exciting. You learn a hell of a lot more and then it can be useful in times of crisis. - It's clear that only a great delegator would be able to diversify without creating spreading themselves too thinly per se. - For sure. - I guess that goes back to that skilive diversification. Your headmaster said something to you that my best friend, Your Ridgeway, said to me when I was 18 years old after I dropped out of university, my best friend, Your Ridgeway, from Plymouth said to me, I remember I was stood in this curry shop in Rushholm. He said, "You're either going to be a millionaire or in prison." Now, when I read that this morning, when I was doing research on your headmaster, it stopped me and my breakfast halfway through my sort of cheer. I thought, gosh. Now, I know why he said that to me because he knew there was a certain level of desperation in me and there was a certain craftiness which was could he either take me, could he either be used for good or evil? When you did the student magazine, that prophecy appeared to come true one day when the police raided your magazine and arrested you. And I learned about this in the docu-series last night. Your mother then puts her house on the line to get you out of jail and you choose to expand, you choose to expand your way out of the problem, which for you men, as it said in the docu-series, opening 30 record stores that year to be able to pay your mother back. Have you always chosen to expand your way out of problems? - Yes, I think the answer is yes. I mean, I spent one night in prison. In those days, you had to pay tax on records if you ship them to Europe. Sadly, with Brexit, you're gonna have people gonna have to do that again. But I stumbled into the fact that if you drove across the channel and drove back again, you had a piece of paper which said you'd exported the records and therefore you didn't have to pay the tax. But anyway, so we got a bad rap on the now 'cause I spent a night in prison and swore never ever ever to spend a second night in prison in my life.
Expanding to get out of trouble (28:36)
And yes, we expanded fast in order to pay off the fine. We just needed the turnover and it was actually and actually a really, a wonderful booster to all the team at Virgin, to you. And fortunately, we managed within three years to pay it off. But I mean, sometimes we're expanding, expanding just for the shared pleasure of learning about something new and then maybe occasionally on like on that occasion, we're expanding to get ourselves out of trouble. - Quick one, this episode is brought to you by Mercedes Benz who recently got in touch to support the Diova CEO. I'm becoming quite the fan of electric cars and of course, a huge fan of Mercedes Benz, I have one of my own. The Mercedes Benz luxury electric range, known as Mercedes EQ is at the very forefront of this industry, which is what really stood out to me. If you're looking for a business car, the sustainability credentials, economic benefits, general convenience and high levels of luxury, which everybody knows Mercedes Benz for, in that all electric cars are truly groundbreaking. In terms of features, their next generation technology across the range is second to none. For example, there's intuitive MBUX technology with AI that learns your behavior and keeps you connected to the things that matter to you. Not to mention, all Mercedes EQ cars offer exemption from the ultra low emission zone charge and London congestion charge. So if like me, you're really excited about all things electric cars. And if you haven't checked out the Mercedes EQ range, then search Mercedes Benz fleet to see how they can take your business to the next level. Quick word from one of our sponsors, you must be living under a rock if you've not heard about WeWork. But I think in the modern world, where people are working remotely on the go, they're entrepreneurs building their businesses. WeWork has never been more important than it is right now. There are some incredible things WeWork have released to enable entrepreneurs like you, like me, to be able to work flexibly, comfortably with the resources, Wi-Fi and everything else, the infrastructure we need in hundreds of locations around the world. And one of those things is called WeWork All Access. If you have all access WeWork, you can work in hundreds of different locations as you travel around the world and as you move around the world and as you go to meetings around the world. WeWork, for entrepreneurs, in my opinion, is a total game changer. And to encourage you to check WeWork out, if you've never worked in one before, I'm offering 50% off a one day booking if you go to we.co/CEO and use the promo code diary. Check it out, I love WeWork, and they've been great partners and supporters of this podcast. The most, from my perspective, one of the most terrifying decisions you ever made was to go into the airline industry. Warren Buffett's fairly famous for saying that he has once considered employing someone to sit in his office and every time he feels like investing in an airline to talk him out of it because it's such a absurd, terrifying business to get into. You were running a very successful record label and record store business by then. You had many, many companies, many investments and you decided to take this huge bet to start an airline. Now there's a lot said about why. Could you tell me in your own words why? - And it really was out of frustration of flying on other people's airlines, having bad experiences and feeling that we could do it better. We could make it, it could be more fun. I mean, in those days, if you flew on say British Airways, it was a monopoly. You maybe got a lump of chicken dumped in your lap. There was no entertainment. The cabin crew certainly didn't enjoy working for the company and you really felt like you were just being heard from A to B in a cattle truck. And so I flew, I was flying all over the world to visit our record companies, 'cause we had record companies in most countries around the world and just felt that we could do it better. Somebody came along to us with the idea of a business airline only, I didn't think that would be very exciting to run.
Why did you start an airline? (33:25)
But I thought a really good quality airline for everybody, including business people, would be something special to run. And so ended up ringing up Boeing and having a wonderful discussion with a wonderful guy called R.J. Wilson and ending up being able to lease a second hand 747 from him. And because I do like to protect the downside, which is obviously important in business, I did a deal with him where I could hand the plane back at the end of 12 months if my instinct was not right. But fortunately at the end of 12 months, people loved flying on Virgin Atlantic and we ended up getting a second and a third plane from Boeing. And that was 38 years ago. And Virgin Atlantic is roughly the same age as my daughter. She's been, the airline's been bullied by British Airways and famously through the Dirty Tricks campaign. It was a really tough time. We took the A to court and we won the biggest libel damages in history. She's had to go through the like, think crashes like the 9/11 disaster, the 2008 disaster, it's the COVID disaster. And I'm sure that it's cost us more money than we do. It's cost us more money than we've ever made from it. But it's been the flagship for Virgin. It's enabled us to launch other companies in different countries around the world and the back of the strong brand and the strong reputation it's had. And she's a daughter that I will zealously protect and as long as I can. - When you look back at why that business survived, considering the fierce competition, considering what British Airways did and what ultimately found guilty of in court with their Dirty Tricks campaigns, the bit that really stuck out to me yesterday was hearing that they had a staff member hack into your customer database to kind of see, spy on what you were doing. That went to court, you won the battle. And that acted as a real boost, I think, for Virgin because it kind of staged you as this sort of David versus Goliath situation where you were the underdog. But as you look back on that journey, many people have fallen in that industry. It's a graveyard, as you say, in the documentary. Why did Virgin win? What was it? Was it brand? Was it customer experience? Was it just grit? - I think that I think a lot comes back to staff. I mean, we've always had a great team of people working at Virgin. They're really proud of the company. They, we've done things. You know, we've always been ahead of the pack and in new innovations. So, you know, seat back videos, for instance. We were the first airline to introduce seat back videos in the world. They, you know, sleep receipts for business class passengers. You know, stand up bars and lounges and so on. You know, collecting money at the door, you know, for charity. That Virgin was the first to do that. And I'll probably will every airline and most airports are doing it as well, these change. So I think, you know, every little detail, I think, we, the team have got right at Virgin.
Why did virgin win? (37:39)
And, and if you get the little details right, you know, then collectively. You, it makes for an exceptional company over an average company. And, you know, if I'm on a Virgin Play now, or in any Virgin company, I'll have my notebook, I'll take notes, I'll listen to it, listen to the stuff, listen to the customers, you know, and then act on it when I get to the far end. And, and, and then being in touch, back in touch with the people who, you know, gave me the ideas to thank them and tell them what we've done. And, and I think a good, a good leader has to be a good listener. And if you're, if you're, and, and that's, I think, one of the most important attributes of a good leader. I grabbed my phone halfway through watching the docu series yesterday when you mentioned the seatback videos, because in the same breath, you mentioned how every accountant would tell you not to do many of the things that you've chosen to do, but also the banks would even lend you the money to do the seatback videos. They'd give you the money to like two billion dollars to do the planes, but they wouldn't give you the 10 million to do the seatback videos. You've mentioned instinct as well a few times. As a CEO of the years, I've had this battle between like instinct and the CFO. You seem to tend to, I think the quote you said was, you tend not to consult finance people and accounts people when you, when you have these ideas. How have you found that battle between the two, between your instinct and your vision and the money people going, this won't work, this doesn't make sense. I suspect that you're the entrepreneur and they're the CFO because you're the entrepreneur and they're the CFO. So I think you just got to believe in your instinct and go with it. And if you create something, we're just opening a new hotel in New York. If it's the best hotel in New York, even if it's gone over budget in the building of it, which it will have done, the best always succeeds. You know, we famously during COVID launched a new cruise line, Virgin Voyages. You know, it is so much better than any other cruise line out there. You know, we've had two years where we've had to moth mothball the ships. But, you know, we've stuck with it because we know that the quality is such that people will seek it out and the feedback has been, you know, spectacular minutes, Virgin Virgin. It is absolutely best. I'm actually heading there this afternoon. You know, it's fascinating. Each ship has 78 different nationalities working on it. You know, 1,200 people. And they're just the best and and it's adults only and it's a lot of fun. And but, you know, there were moments during COVID that we did think, you know, we definitely chose the wrong business to launch Virgin at its absolute best. What does that mean? What is Virgin at its best? Virgin at its best is when you launch a new company and you know that because you know, people have experienced previous Virgin companies that they will give it a try. You don't really have to even advertise. They know that when they went on a Virgin train, when we ran the network, that it was, you know, really good quality when they went on a Virgin plane. It was good quality when they went into Virgin Health Club. It was good quality and so on. And so, you know, that that gives us a big advantage with with a brand that that people have tried, they've loved. And so when we launch something new, like a cruise line, they will give it a go. And we make sure that we don't let them down. And and and then, you know, having them tried the cruise line, if we decide to do a new venture, you know, we can we can it's that much easier for us to launch it off the back of the cruise line. You you are so synonymous with the Virgin. I don't think I know a person who is as synonymous with their brand as an individual. So when you think of Virgin, you think of Richard Branson, you think of Richard Branson, you think Virgin. And in 1985, you start doing some pretty extreme adventures around the world, which become kind of pay into the brand and give the brand extra meaning. Things like crossing crossing the Atlantic by boat, which sunk. It seems like a lot of the the trips you took either collapse, like fell out the sky into the into the into the sea or the boat sank. You set so many records through that period. So, you know, I was reading about you going to 250 miles per hour in a hot air balloon across the the Pacific from Japan to the Arctic in Canada, again, breaking existing records at the time. This became a real hallmark of like the Richard Branson in Virgin Brown, these extreme adventures. Was that intentional when you did that first one? Did you was was it because of a marketing thing? Or was it because of the fun of doing it for yourself? It started out as a mixture of the two, but more we had one plane and somebody said, you know, why don't we try to bring the Blue Ribbon back to Britain for the fastest boat across the Atlantic? And, you know, we can we can build this boat. And but it ended up being much more than just a marketing adventure. It became it became a real adventure. I mean, it was, you know, tremendously exciting and I was in my very early thirties and and and. And, you know, it was tough, but it was it was great fun.
Being synonymous with your brand (43:54)
There were, you know, lots of moments of drama, which there always are when you're trying something. It's never really been tried before, including, as you pointed out, we say we sang before we got the whole way across. But but anyway, it makes for a good documentary series and it makes for a good book and and and and, you know, and it did put Virgin on the map. It made Virgin a much more sexy brand, a more adventurous brand than say. British Airways, our rival and and other and other brands. I mean, Virgin Atlantic cheekily took a full page ad when we when we sank in the Atlantic. The only thing that was sticking out of the Atlantic of the boat was the brand Virgin. And and they had just had the picture of the boat sticking out of the water and and they had said next time Richard take the plane. And and of course the word the word people who said, you know, what have you saying? What have you end up in the in the Atlantic? You know, no one's going to want to fly on an airline where. And but of course it's quite the reverse. It's it's you know, people, you know, it helped put it helped put a tiny little airline on the map. More more effectively than anything else. We could do it much more cheaply. You mentioned that I had from from your competitor there. In the moment, competition is the arch enemy, you know, causing you a ton of nuisance. But as you look back on the competition, you've had throughout the different industries you've been in. Has the competition actually made you stronger and better at what you've done? Yes. And I think the reverse is also true that that you know, these big public companies or big government run companies like British Airways have been made the better by having Virgin Atlantic innovating and, you know, them having to catch us up over the years. And I think British Airways is a better company today than it was, you know, 38 years ago when we started. So competition is good for all of us. Big and small. And the only role that governments need to play is intervening when there's unfair competition. And that's one of the most important roles a government can play is making sure that they set laws that encourage competition and don't stifle competition. And and, you know, we've had anyway, there have been books written about about companies that have tried to start stifle Virgin in the past. But somehow we somehow we came through. There's this term now called personal branding, which has become very popular, predominantly because of social media and everybody having a channel and they can build followers and they can try and tell the world who their company is using social media. But you were kind of the first CEO personal brand to many people because everything you did added value to the brand.
Using competition to build a better brand (47:12)
And it wasn't just what Virgin said. I think when I look at your story, it teaches me that the brand is what what the people do and what the founder does becomes the brand more so than ever. And I think that's often what we lose sight of and some of the best band brands in the world, like the Red Bulls of the world, have figured out that the things you do say much more about the brand than what you say. Yeah. And you are like the perfect example of that. In the early 90s, you got in a bit of a struggle because of the broader economy. And you ended up selling your record business. From all accounts and from speaking to some of your current team, they said that this was a very difficult moment for you, that it was crushing. I think the quote that I that I was told. Is that accurate and why was it why was it crushing? Oh, look, I think. If you think of your if you think of the the things that you create like children, which which I do and I think of it like that because it is just a bunch of people. And I mean, you know, your businesses yourself and a group of people. If you sell it, it's like selling selling, you know, if you sell a company, it's like selling a group of children. And that's that's tough all round. I needed to I needed a war chest to combat British Airways and and and the dirty tricks that they were. They'd they'd launched at Virgin and and you know, so the war chest that I thought I could best tap into was Virgin Records. The good thing was that the staff at Virgin Records still had a had a job that working for another company and the staff at Virgin Atlantic were safe because we had the financial clout to to deal to deal with our competitor. So there are there are obviously times in life where you have to make tough decisions like that and and and and yeah, but it and move and move and move.
Reflections And Future Aspirations
Selling your record business (49:28)
Do you have any regrets about about how that happened? I like phase and I have I've always think that if anybody asked me if I ever have any regrets about anything, it would be I'd be a very sad person to answer positively because, you know, I've had the most extraordinary life. It's been full of interesting twists and turns. And I honestly really can't think of anything I regret in the past. They and I think I really do think I'd be a sad person if I if I had regrets, I'm not. It's just been rich with rich with you know, adventure and and and people and and and and I'm not somebody who looks back by and large. I mean, obviously an interview like this, that will but yeah, and I suppose I've reached an age where, you know, it's important to write books and it's important to do documentaries and you know, because it's important not to waste your life and and and and it's important to share what you've learned. How did you feel yesterday watching the docu series on your life? I was just behind you. So I'd watch I'd look at the screen and now look at your reaction and I'd see you laughing sometimes. I was emotionally drained, to be honest. I mean, after the after party, I just could not really get my words out for the first half an hour. I found it quite, you know, fairly exhausting. I mean, they it's incredible. A really good documentary maker and Chris Smith is one of the best in the world. I mean, you know, prides himself on his independence, which I respect completely. And so we, you know, we didn't have input into it.
Looking back on your life (51:21)
You know, obviously, therefore, not everything was going to agree with and not everything is, you know, in my brain would be exactly as as it was. But nine, you know, 95%, 96% was was was as I see it. And but but just what is is incredible was the archive footage they managed to find. You know, considering we'd had my main house burnt down my main house blown down in an hurricane twice. The fact that anything survived to be able to make such a, you know, such a really full, you know, really quite exciting. I think documentary series was, you know, I have to take my hat off to them. And then in the, as I watched the last episode of the docu series last night, I saw you once again in typical Richard Branson style set yourself a new frontier, which was space as if you, you know, as if all of that you had done before wasn't enough. You decided to aim for the stars. Why? So I remember many, many, many years ago when President Gorbachev was leader of Russia and he was trying to bring Paris Stoker to the West and trying to put out peace signs. He invited me to come to Russia to be the first person to go up in a Russian spaceship, but it would have meant a big check. You know, 60 million, it would have meant a year learning Russian and being in Russia. And I just didn't have the time that, and already the spare money to do something like that. But it did get me thinking, you know, that's an inordinate amount of money to charge for somebody to go to space. And for that kind of money, why couldn't I just build, start building a spaceship. And so we registered Virgin Galactic Airways. And I was set up, went around the world trying to see if we could find somebody to build a spaceship. And then just found this genius, but return.
Why did you want to go to space (54:01)
And he, you know, I've always dreamt of going to space one day. I think 50% of the people listening to this program will have dreamt or will dream of going to space. And the other thing, you know, why on earth, would you want to do that? But, you know, it was the most extraordinary day of my life, my trip to space. And, you know, looking back at this beautiful, beautiful earth that we live on, it was from space, whilst floating. It was a lovely group of people, just an extraordinary experience. And to be honest, to pinch oneself moment to be doing it in a spaceship that we built. And yeah, so it was a dream come true. In that documentary, we're also reminded of the cost of all of these endeavors at a moment when there's a shot of you taking a phone call at your house, learning that in the lead up to Virgin Galactic's going to space for the first time, an astronaut had died in one of the tests. It's a very emotional scene, but it is a reminder of the cost of these great endeavors to humanity. That day, when you receive that phone call and then you rush yourself to the to the to the site. What's on your mind? So it's happened to me twice in my life. You know, I was once in a cinema in Europe with my kids and my phone just kept, kept vibrating and ignored it and ignored it. And I was on the sort of third or fourth time. I just had to walk out of the cinema and check it. And one of our trains had come off the track and, you know, straight away, I knew that, you know, I just had to get to the scene of the accident. And, you know, there were no flights that night, so we had to drive through the through the night. And then, yeah, and then anyway, we got got there early early in the morning the next day. And then a lady had died and, you know, and I went to the morgue to meet the relatives and, you know, we had a hug hug and, and I mean, fortunately it turned out it wasn't actually a virgin's fault, but, you know, but you're still obviously responsible for the fact that it was on a virgin train.
The cost of all these endeavours (56:54)
And, and, and, and then you've got to as, as owner, you know, confront talk to the press and, and, and, and, but it, it, I think the fact that you make, the fact that you make an effort and get, get there quickly is very important. And the same when, when, when we lost a test spaceship, I knew straight away based on my previous experience with the train that I needed to be there as fast as possible. Is there a conversation about discontinuing virgin galactic at that moment after losing that life? Well, as I mean, you know, we, I sat down with George Whiteside and just said, you know, is it, you know, ask ourselves questions? Is it worth it? Is it worth, you know, is it worth continuing? What, what, what would happen if we had a second accident? You know, we would never, never, never be forgiven. I mean, it would, you know, it would, our reputations would be destroyed. But then we, then we spoke with all the, all the engineers and we spoke with many of the people who signed up to go to space and, and we spoke with a family and of, of, of the pilot who'd lost and with one, with one voice, they said, you know, you just got to, you've got to continue. And, and we did and, and we're still, you know, we're still, you know, we're still at the early stage of space travel. There's still risks. I mean, we think that, you know, we don't, you know, we think that we're through all the big risks. You know, we've got a, we can automatically switch off an engine if, you know, if anything is wrong with the rocket motor, just, and we've got, we've got astronauts actually flying, flying aircraft. But it is the, it is, it is the early stages and, but, but I think everybody involved are doing it with their eyes open. One of the most beautiful heart-wrenching scenes from the docu-series is in 2021, when you are months away from your first space flight on your, on your own spaceship, spacecraft, space plane, whatever the terminology is. You've named it after your mother, you've named the mothership after Eve, and then tragically, she passes away from COVID before she has the chance to, embark on that space journey with you, which she was planning to do. That phase of your life when you lose your mother, when you lose Eve, what impact does that have on you and your mission? And it, it, I mean, first of all, she'd lived a, a long life and an extraordinary life and, and so it was, yeah, I mean, I was very, very fortunate in our family, very fortunate to have had her run so long. And, and the absolute last thing that she would have wanted was for, for, for the mission or any missions to be held up as a result of her death. I mean, you know, she, she will, you know, if there's a star up there, she'll be on it and, and I'm sure that she was there and, there in spirit when, when I went to space and she definitely would have been smiling, smiling down, down, down at us with, with my dad Ted. And, and so, yeah, and so I think when we, when we lose loved ones, it's, you know, we, you live on, you live on through your parents and your, and your children live on through you and your grandchildren live on through your children.
The passing of your mother eve (01:01:08)
And, you know, that's the sort of wonder, the wonders of life. And when you came down from that space flight, which is detailed in your, your second memoir in the sort of updated version, which has just been updated. You wrote a letter to your mum after coming down from space. You said, dear mum, you always told me to reach for the stars. Well, I took my own winding road, but I always knew when to follow your lead. You always pushed us to our limits. You were always a dreamer. You urged me to strive for every opportunity I saw. You told me to chase my wildest fantasies to live life to the full, how you lived, how you loved, and how you are missed. Yeah, I mean, she, you know, I think, yeah, hopefully, yeah, when people read the book, they'll think about their own, their own mum's and dad's and, and, and, you know, how lucky, lucky we are to have mum's and dad's who sacrificed so much for us. And then, as we, as we, as we grow up and then, obviously later on in life, one can, one can give, you know, give back and looking after them as they get a little bit older. The docu series was a bit of a punch in the face from the start because that, because of that opening scene about your family where you're sat there ahead of your journey to space, trying to say some words to Holly, Sam and Joan, your wonderful wife and your kids, just in case you never make it back from space. This is something that you've done time and time again before you embarked on these journeys. Really, really difficult to watch, really difficult to watch and took me by surprise because it was so early on in the film. Why, why was, why is it so hard to get those words out? Otherwise, you seem like such a composed individual, but when it came to those words, it seemed like, you know, multiple takes you got up, you walked away, you came back, got up walked away and came back. So, first of all, I do, I cry in happy films, I cry in sad films, my kids bring a box of tissues when we go to the cinema or used to. And so that, I'm, you know, even now just talking to you, I can feel tears in my eyes. So, so, it's not surprising for me to suddenly not be able to get through my sentence sometimes. But obviously, look, if you're reading, if you're speaking about as if you've died to your kids and your grandkids, lots of emotions go through your head at the time of speaking, I suspect even the emotions of my God, should I be, you know, is it worth it?
Saying parting words to your family (01:04:16)
And a lot of the, this documentary series is asking the question is it selfish? Is it worth it? Is it? Is it something? Is it something that one should be doing? I remember, I was in, I was just taking off on to go across the Pacific and hot air balloon and walking into this truck and then Joan Thirke from ITN was just finishing editing my obituary in case I didn't come back. And she said, you know, Richard, do you want to sit and watch the obituary? And I said, why not? And, and, you know, I started watching the obituary and again had a couple of tears in my eyes at the end of it. But, you know, but I do think that in life, you know, one advantage of doing these adventures is actually you do confront the ultimate inevitability of, you know, that you're not going to be here forever. And so you do think about, you know, have I left everything in order? You know, what am I going to say to my children? What am I going to say to my grandchildren? And a lot of people don't have that opportunity because they die suddenly. So, you know, so I have written quite a few letters over the years in thinking that I just may not come back from this adventure or that adventure. The documentary also shone a light on Joan, who has clearly been this huge rock in your life over the years. She's a strong, tenacious, honest, very, very to the point, wonderful woman. What does she mean to you? And what has she meant to you over the last 40, 50 years? Well, I was lucky enough to meet her 45 years ago in a recording studio called the Manor, walked into the kitchen and just looked across the room and she was the most gorgeous creature I'd ever seen in my life. And it was instantaneous love from me to her. It took me a while the other way around. But she's just a fantastic down to Earth, gloves, weeds, and doesn't suffer fools, gladly. Complete opposite to me. You know, doesn't play tennis, doesn't run, doesn't ski, doesn't climb mountains. It doesn't go adventuring. But she's the most fantastic mother for Holly and Sam and the grandkids. And she knows what matters in life. I mean, in the end, I suppose what matters is the love you can give to your children, the food on the table. Yeah, but above everything, just unreserved love to everybody around her and everything else is sort of icing on the cake. You're a man synonymous with living a life worth living. One of the quotes from the film was about, you know, not living a life that is full of risk is not living at all. Words to that effect. If I was Sam or Holly, your kids, and I asked you, I said, Dad, what is a life worth living? What would you say to me? I think just to first of all, fulfill their own dreams. I mean, not to have their father or mother push them into things they don't want to do. I was lucky when my daughter wanted to be a doctor and she became a doctor. She now helps this with our foundation. My son wanted to make films and he's a musician basically, which is his main love and he doesn't miss a little bit of both of those things. They're both fantastic parents and they find the time for the grandkids. So I think just to follow whatever dream it is that you have as best you can. And, yeah, we've been lucky that our kids have found their path in life. We have a closing tradition on this podcast where the last guest asks a question for the next guest not knowing who they are asking it for. The question that has been left for you is, where were you when you felt most vulnerable and why?
Definition Of A Fulfilling Life
What is a life worth living? (01:09:25)
I think I felt most vulnerable relatively recently during the about six weeks into COVID when everything that we built up looked like it was crashing down. And, interestingly, when the sort of British press rather than being supported it really turned on us. But fortunately, my kids and grandkids and everybody arrived around about that same time. And the team just got down and worked really hard day and night to make sure we kept as many jobs safe as possible. And I think pretty well every version company got through it and pretty well every employee's jobs got protected. But that was maybe the toughest time in my life. Suddenly it just looked like one for your reputation and everything else was going out of the window. But COVID was tough for so many people. And we felt it too.
The last guests question (01:10:51)
Holly and several members of your team referenced that as being your toughest moment. But the word tough is just a word. If I zoomed in and if I was there, what would I have seen and what would I have felt? When you say the word tough, I think that I've never understood depression. And I think I understood where people get depression from after that experience. And it's good to have gone through it myself a bit. I mean, it didn't last too long because I've brought out by parents who have been through the Second World War and you can waste your time getting depressed. They were much far worse things than being depressed. But anyway, it taught me to understand it, which I think will hopefully make me better understand other people's depression in the years to come. What were the symptoms of that? And what were the symptoms of it? I was very difficult to pinpoint the symptoms. But you don't look, you just feel very sorry for yourself for a day or two. And then you just have to snap out of it and get, you know, my mum would have, if she'd been alive, and what she was. But I mean, if I'd talked to her about it, she would have told me to pull myself together and just get back to work. And I think within two or three days, you know, her words would have been ringing in my head and I would have overcome it. And I didn't overcome it. But it just, you know, it just a taste of it anyway. Richard. So Richard Branson, thank you so much for your time. To me, you've, when I started this podcast, you were the name, you were the name that if one day I could speak to on this podcast, I think we might as well pack it up and finish because to me, as an entrepreneur my whole life, you've always been the North Star of entrepreneurs. And you've represented and embodied what it is to be an entrepreneur that's striving for to create better in everything you do. I had the pleasure of researching your story again now at 30 years old, and it's been a tremendous source of inspiration for me. To meet you today to get to come and watch your docu series is one of the highlights of my entire entrepreneurial career and life and definitely this podcast. So thank you so much for that because I'm not sure you'll ever really appreciate how much of an impact you have on people like me. So I want to make sure that I have a chance to tell you and to thank you for that because you've definitely changed my life and I know I'm not the only person. So thank you. Your book is amazing. The docu series was so captivating. I stayed up to about 3am last night making sure I watched all of it and then watched the last episode again this morning and I implore everybody to go and check it out now on HBO. But yeah, most important things I just wanted to say thank you. Well, thank you back and yeah, many many congratulations on all you've achieved and all you've been a young bastard. All you will achieve in the years to come. Thank you Richard. Quick one from our longest standing sponsor here. I can't tell you over the last and say over the last really it's been about two and a half years it was really post pandemic how much my health has become such a huge priority in my life. And I have this laser laser focused on what I'm putting into my body. It's funny because as you get older you can start to feel the things you're putting into your body more and more and more. And if I put something into my body especially things like gluten if I put those things in my body I feel them tremendously the next day my energy levels and my sleep and everything in between. Heal has been probably the most important partner in my health journey because I've been in the boardrooms I've been to their offices. Tens and tens and tens and tens of times. I've seen how they make their decisions on nutrition and I trust it. I've seen a team that are in this room with me consumer and get the benefits of it too. So if you haven't already tried here do so. Intel are now one of our sponsors on this podcast and I'm here to tell you about their VPro platform. Security and data protection are totally non negotiable when it comes to the technology I use for my businesses. I'm constantly thinking about where we can upgrade our systems to protect against potential threats. So this is where Intel VPro has become our go to. Intel VPro is built for businesses. It has a hardware based multi layer platform security features protecting from cyber attacks, threat detection and also recovery systems all in one platform. In an ever challenging cyber landscape if I can put measures in place that I believe will save me time and money that I absolutely will. So head over to intel.co.uk/vpro to find out how it could work for your business.