Our work is powered by the personal commitment of visionary leaders, working in close partnership to transform the role of business in society to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.
This month, we launch a new series re-introducing these inspirational individuals, providing fresh insights into their work, the actions they are driving in their organisations, the challenges they face and their hopes for the future. We begin with our co-founder, Richard Branson.
What inspires You?
My mother, Eve, has always been my biggest inspiration, my most encouraging champion, and my greatest sounding board. On top of helping me chart my path to success, she’s been very successful herself—a pioneering entrepreneur in her own right. I’m grateful that my family has always been very loving and close and my parents instilled in my sisters and me a few core principles that have guided us well. They taught us that life is a gift, and to aim to live our lives without regret. My children, Holly and Sam, follow these principles and work to instill them in our grandchildren—Etta, Artie and Eva-Deia.
Which B Team cause are you motivated by most?
I’m very proud of everything The B Team stands for and the work they do towards changing business for good. Working with other leaders to find better ways of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet is vitally important as we secure the future for generations to come. One of the initiatives I’m most passionate about is achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, alongside a meaningful and effective price on carbon, and a shift of fossil fuel subsidies to renewables. These are absolutely essential steps to be taken if we are serious about tackling climate change. We have an enormous opportunity in our hands to make a positive difference for business, people and the planet. Taking bold climate action now has the potential to unleash the full power of business and at the same time lift millions of people out of poverty. We’re the first generation to recognize this and the last generation that will have this opportunity.
What convinced you to take on this challenge? Why do you believe that it cannot be achieved without business engagement and leadership?
Despite the facts, climate change is still a controversial topic. But ultimately, we are all collectively responsible for looking after our planet. Business leaders should take responsibility for raising awareness and helping wherever we can. Now is an important time to continue the climate change conversation—COP 22 took place in Marrakech earlier this year and the COP21 climate change deal was formally ratified. Momentum is definitely building, but we must continue to work together. We need all countries and companies to step up and play their part, setting strong goals, having clear plans and openly demonstrating progress.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on this journey?
I’ve been in this business for a long time and a lesson I had to learn quickly was to accept failure. One of my most valuable failures came at an early age, when I failed to convince a major publishing house to buy our first business, Student Magazine. They wanted to focus on distribution methods and details, while I began explaining my vision for a whole host of new Student enterprises—from magazines, to travel companies to banks and they ran a mile. Failure gave me the opportunity to set about doing everything I could to build the business I believed in. Today, Virgin spans even more sectors than I dreamed of as an ambitious teenager—failures don’t prevent success in the long run! Making mistakes and experiencing setbacks is part of the DNA of every successful entrepreneur, and I am no exception. You learn valuable lessons from all mistakes and this is why failure is important.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I wake up early—usually around 5am. I check my emails and then use the early mornings to get some exercise and spend time with the family. This routine helps put me in a positive mind-set before I get down to business!
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur seeking to start a new company today?
Starting a business is always tough, but particularly when you’re young. My first bit of advice would be to not let other people use your age as an excuse to not take you seriously. We should always encourage the younger generation—they look at the world with fresh eyes and a lively determination. Probably the most important characteristic is passion. You can’t be a successful entrepreneur if you don’t love what you do and making money is all you care about. We spend roughly 80% of our working lives at work, so it’s important that we do what we love and love what we do.
If there is one big change you could make in the world today, what would it be?
I would like to see meaningful strides taken with prison reform. No one should be judged by the worst moment in their lives. We’ve always encouraged our businesses to find ways of training and employing people who have been released from prison. If we are serious about reducing reoffending, we must allow people to move on from their past deeds and provide the second chance everyone deserves.
If you were given an extra day next week, how would you spend it?
Family means the world to me. As I travel a lot, I would take that extra day to spend with my loved ones. I also have Granddude duties now and I love spending time with my grandchildren—Etta, Artie and Eva-Deia.
What one thing would you change to help more companies go further, faster towards sustainable business?
Sustainability is at the heart of Virgin Group’s purpose. By creating sustainable practices within our business we are working to help the planet and everyone on it thrive.