The Universe of Sir Richard Branson
Fifty-one years ago, Sir Richard Branson founded Virgin. In 1970, Virgin was a mail-order record shop that then grew to have a brick-and-mortar store. Today, there are over 40 Virgin companies across the Virgin Group, including Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic. The universe Branson has created with Virgin is far reaching and includes many initiatives designed to help better the environment and push for progress on various social issues. Here, Branson talks to Worth about the impact he and his businesses have had, what it means to him to begin democratizing space travel and how Virgin is “changing business for good.”
Q: Ultimately, what do you hope people remember about you, in terms of the impact you’ve had on the world?
A: As I say in my latest autobiography, Finding My Virginity, if I had to give one reason why I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some success, it would be my knack for bringing together wonderful people. It has been my biggest pleasure to play host to meaningful conversations about the global issues that I feel most strongly about. More importantly, these conversations have catalyzed meaningful change.
At Virgin, we look to create the best environment and opportunity for our people, as well as have a positive impact on the world around us. I founded Virgin more than 50 years ago, and it’s been quite the ride since then. Today, the Virgin Group is made up of more than 40 companies across five different continents.
Since launching Virgin, we’ve worked hard to make sure we use our influence to help address some of the world’s most challenging issues. Alongside Virgin Unite, our not-for-profit foundation, we’ve helped set up The B Team to collectively create new norms of corporate leadership; The Elders to protect and promote human rights around the world; the 100% Human at Work Network to put people alongside profit in business; Ocean Unite to work to protect the ocean; and the Carbon War Room (now merged with RMI) to speed up the adoption of new market-based solutions to climate change.
I’m immensely proud of the work we’ve done with our businesses over the years, from supporting young people impacted by the HIV and AIDS crisis with Mates condoms to helping to launch the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty campaign earlier this year. We use our platform to speak out about social issues and encourage other business leaders to follow suit.
As my great friend and chair of The Elders, Mary Robinson, said, “many of the activities in our world, whether they be dealing with the climate crisis, migration or devastating poverty, can and must be addressed by business.” I hope my work and the initiatives and groups we have assembled, with the help of many wonderful people, continue to have impact for generations to come.
Virgin Galactic is revolutionizing space travel. How do you think space travel will affect our understanding of what it means to travel?
I have dreamt about going to space since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. I went up there with my own mission written into the inside of my space suit: to make the dream of space travel a reality. During the flight, I wanted to speak to any children who might have been watching, to let them know that if we can do this, just imagine what you can do. Virgin Galactic’s mission is to make space accessible to all, so that everyone can experience it.
What does worth beyond wealth mean to you and how do you as an entrepreneur embrace that idea?
At Virgin, we use the phrase “changing business for good,” which I think sums it up very well. I’m often asked what advice I would give fellow entrepreneurs when they are starting out, it’s one of the many reasons we created Virgin StartUp, our not-for-profit entrepreneurship arm, which offers loans and advice to early-stage founders. First and foremost, I think you need to truly love what you do. I have long believed that people should get into business to create a product or a service that is going to benefit society, something that solves a problem and creates an extraordinary experience. That way, you are spending every day working on something with purpose—something you can be truly proud of.
For instance, we have created incredible destinations with Virgin Limited Edition, from Necker Island to Ulusaba, which put purpose at the heart of everything they do. A great example is Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco, which now employs over 99 percent of its employees from the local Berber community, and figures suggest that each individual employed at the hotel supports up to 10 other individuals in their extended family. We are passionate about protecting and supporting the local communities, wildlife and habitats within which we operate.