Up in the Air: Life Lessons
from Richard Branson
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[November 03, 2016]
By Chris Taylor
YORK (Reuters) - Who, if anyone, on this planet is living their best
life? The shortlist of candidates would have to include Richard Branson.
The British billionaire and founder of the Virgin group of companies not
only makes a very good living, but he seems to be having a hell of a
time doing it.
A new documentary on Branson's hot-air ballooning adventures titled
"Don't Look Down," is being released in select theaters on Nov. 11.
For the latest in Reuters' "Life Lessons" series, Branson gives a few
pointers on embracing a high-risk, high-reward life.
Q: Your parents encouraged your taste for adventure. What life lessons
did they pass along to you?
A: When I was around five years old, my mum stopped three miles from our
home and told me to find my own way back. Granted she was punishing me
for causing mischief in the back seat, but her goal was to teach me how
to overcome my shyness and ask others for directions.
Q: Are your risky ballooning adventures an apt metaphor for how you
A: My escapades in "Don’t Look Down," are certainly high-risk. We needed
to find a way to promote our new airline. I think Joan, the kids and my
parents might have been happy if I had found a way not to fly the
world's biggest-ever hot air balloon in a jet stream across the Atlantic
Ocean. However, my sense of adventure got the better of me, and these
ballooning adventures helped put Virgin on the map.
Q: The film begins with the story of the almost accidental launching of
Virgin Air. What did that experience teach you about entrepreneurship?
A: The moment of inspiration came from a time when I was stranded in the
British Virgin Islands. I had a beautiful lady waiting for me, but the
airline had canceled the flight as there were not enough passengers. As
a joke, I grabbed a chalkboard and wrote BVI one-way $39. Then I wrote
'Virgin Airlines' on the top. I found all the passengers who had been
bumped and filled up my first plane. Moments of frustration are often a
spark of brilliant ideas and solutions.
Q: What are your strategies for handling wealth?
A: Reinvest the money you make to improve your existing company. Keep
your eyes open for new sectors or countries to expand in. We started in
music and retail, but used our success there to create many different
businesses beyond the airlines which are now the mainstay of the group.
Q: Any money mistakes you made along the way, that you would like to
A: I can remember a number of occasions earlier in the history of Virgin
when the bank manager came to see me on the Friday and told us he was
going to close Virgin down on Monday morning. We would spend the whole
weekend scrambling around to avoid going bankrupt and somehow would
always find a way to keep going.
[to top of second column]
Founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson speaks on a panel titled
"Drug Policy: Time for a Re-Think?" at the Council on Foreign
Relations in New York, October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
One of the most painful things I have ever had to do was sell Virgin
Records to EMI. We did it to keep our other businesses, namely Virgin
People might say, 'Why were you upset when you'd just made $1 billion?'
We had built the company from scratch and just signed people like Janet
Jackson and The Rolling Stones. It was a sad day, but without it, we
wouldn’t be where we are today.
Q: With your ballooning adventures, you came close to death more than
once. What did those moments teach you about what is important in life?
A: I have had countless near-death experiences throughout my life, and I
wouldn’t say any have deterred my appetite for adventure.
They have made me think about the type of risks I am willing to take,
for my businesses and my family. My family mean the world to me. We are
lucky to be a very close-knit group. I have recently had some extra
responsibility in my life when I became a 'Grand-Dude.' I have enjoyed
spoiling my grandchildren and love spending any spare time I have with
My family is an adventurous bunch. Holly, Sam, my nephew Noah and I just
completed the Virgin Strive Challenge, traveling from the base of the
Matterhorn to Mount Etna, entirely on human power.
I don’t think any true entrepreneur - or adventurer - would let a little
risk of failure put them off.
(Editing by Lauren Young and G Crosse)
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