BE­ING BRAN­SON

FIRST VIR­GIN HO­TEL JUST OPENED, THE BRI­TISH BIL­LION­AIRE TALKS ABOUT AM­BI­TION, IR­REV­ER­ENCE AND HIS UL­TI­MATE SE­CRET TO SUC­CESS.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ - WORDS JONATHAN THOMPSON

With ho­tels now in his re­mit, the mogul tells us his se­cret to suc­cess.

From the get-go, Sir Richard Bran­son has set the frame­work for a new breed of fam­boy­ant bil­lion­aire. An un­apolo­getic self-pro­moter and party boy – Bran­son’s also an as­tute leader, one who craves cre­ativ­ity and per­sonal en­joy­ment. Cue the perma-smile he sports along­side those sandy teenage locks; cue the sim­ple fact he re­mains ea­ger to take risk in the hope of achiev­ing suc­cess; cue a track record that shows his unique ap­proach to busi­ness, with its win/loss ra­tio, proves he knows ex­actly what he’s do­ing. See, Bran­son is aware of what he likes – al­ways has. And it’s an ap­proach that’s served him well, across the many dif­fer­ent sec­tors he’s in­formed – mu­sic, fnance, trans­porta­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and be­yond. Here, to­day, ho­tels are on his mind – hav­ing re­cently opened the world’s frst Vir­gin Ho­tel in Chicago – and what he doesn’t like. “Over­charg­ing on mini­bars for one,” the 65-year-old tells GQ, en­er­get­i­cally tick­ing items from his fngers. “Pay­ing ex­tra for the same dish on room ser­vice; hid­den fees for late check-out; pay­ing ex­tra for wi-f. Oh, don’t get me started on the bloody wi-f.” With four more prop­er­ties sched­uled, and a num­ber of other new ideas in the pipeline, the Brit isn’t about to take a step back any­time soon. But how ex­actly does he do it, and what are the keys to his main­tained drive and in­cred­i­ble achieve­ments?

GQ: Why have you waited so long to open the first Vir­gin Ho­tel?

Richard Bran­son: Good ques­tion. I sus­pect we should have launched Vir­gin Ho­tels 30 years ago, be­cause we’ve had busi­ness peo­ple fy­ing all over the world – on Vir­gin At­lantic, Vir­gin Amer­ica and Vir­gin Aus­tralia – and lov­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence. But then at the end of it, they’re dumped into ho­tels that aren’t very Vir­gin-es­que at all, like the Hil­ton. Now we’re look­ing to com­plete their jour­ney prop­erly.

GQ: And why Chicago for the first prop­erty? The lo­ca­tion is sur­pris­ing.

RB: We iden­ti­fed a num­ber of cities that in­ter­ested us, then went look­ing for po­ten­tial sites. In Chicago, we found this beau­ti­ful, iconic 1930s build­ing [the Old Dear­born Bank] pretty much im­me­di­ately. So that’s why Chicago was frst – of­ten the de­ci­sion comes down to whether you can fnd the right build­ing to con­vert, and how soon you can get into it.

GQ: What’s the plan in re­gards to the roll­out – global dom­i­na­tion?

RB: I was asked a sim­i­lar ques­tion when we started Vir­gin At­lantic and I said, you know, maybe four, fve planes? And now Vir­gin has nearly 300 air­craft. So it’s hard to say. We’ll try to grow steadily – we al­ready have New York, Nashville, New Or­leans and San Fran­cisco un­der­way, and Lon­don will hap­pen too, so there’s a lot go­ing on. But the key is also to watch the Chicago ho­tel, to see what peo­ple like and don’t like, and to un­der­stand if we’ve got the for­mula right.

GQ: Is an Aus­tralian ho­tel in the works?

RB: Ab­so­lutely. I love Aus­tralia, and Syd­ney in par­tic­u­lar, so any ex­cuse to get down there and throw a party. The whole city is just such a re­fresh­ing, ex­hil­a­rat­ing place to visit. I love the Aus­tralian peo­ple, they’re so much fun and we’ve built some tremen­dous busi­nesses out there. So yeah, that is defnitely on the cards.

GQ: There’s never just one thing on the go with you – so what other Vir­gin ven­tures are on the cards?

RB: Vir­gin Cruises. The idea is to do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent – to tap into the mil­lions of peo­ple who would never have dreamed of go­ing on a cruise be­fore. Our boats are be­ing built at the mo­ment and they will be big­ger than nor­mal cruise ships. It will take three years to fnish them, and in that time we want to cre­ate a cruise ship com­pany that is not only af­ford­able but fun; where peo­ple will gen­uinely not want to get off at the end. I imag­ine we’ll start with the Caribbean.

GQ: Talk­ing gen­er­ally – af­ter 50 years of busi­ness, what keeps you mo­ti­vated to con­tin­u­ally try new things and adopt risk when you needn’t?

RB: It might sound trite, but I see it as one long learn­ing process. I love cre­at­ing things – I love en­abling other peo­ple around me to ful­fil their dreams of cre­at­ing things. And we all get a kick when we’re praised, we all four­ish with that. I’m lucky be­cause ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent and that keeps you in­ter­ested. You have to throw your­self into any­thing you do in life – if you throw your­self in and try to make peo­ple smile, then some­how you can do pretty much any­thing. I’ve done a lot of mad, fun things to put Vir­gin on the map – oc­ca­sion­ally I’ve nearly killed my­self in the process, but it’s been a lot of fun.

GQ: There must be some re­grets?

RB: I hon­estly don’t think so. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, we’ve been ex­traor­di­nar­ily lucky, and the ma­jor­ity of things have worked out. I wouldn’t change any­thing, I’ve had an ab­so­lute blast. Ad­mit­tedly, not ev­ery­thing we’ve started has been a suc­cess. I mean, we found with Vir­gin Brides that we had to move on. I guess there weren’t enough of them out there.

GQ: What would be your top pieces of ad­vice when it comes to com­mer­cial busi­ness?

RB: Noth­ing ven­tured, noth­ing gained. Or, as I of­ten say, ‘Screw it, let’s do it.’ I’m nick­named ‘Doc­tor Yes’ in the of­fce and as a gen­eral rule, I do fnd say­ing ‘yes’ is a lot more fun than ‘no’. There are al­ways go­ing to be tough mo­ments, es­pe­cially when you push the bound­aries, but you learn to pick your­self up, brush your­self down and move for­ward.

GQ: How would you de­scribe your­self as a boss?

RB: I’ve been for­tu­nate to hire in­tel­li­gent, tal­ented ex­perts to run our Vir­gin busi­nesses. Like me, they know what they don’t know and get the job done right by sur­round­ing them­selves with ca­pa­ble peo­ple. My trust in them is why I feel strongly that em­ploy­ees should have the free­dom to de­cide where and when to work. If you show trust, they’ll re­turn it in ded­i­ca­tion and hard work.

GQ: You turned 65 ear­lier this year. Got any re­tire­ment plans?

RB: No, I don’t. To be hon­est, I’ve never re­ally thought of my­self as work­ing in the frst place. I love what I do – and I’ll con­tinue do­ing it ’til the day I drop. vir­gin­ho­tels.com n

“I’M NICK­NAMED ‘DOC­TOR YES’ IN THE OF­FICE AND AS A GEN­ERAL RULE, I DO FIND SAY­ING ‘YES’ IS A LOT MORE FUN THAN ‘NO’.”

VIR­GIN HO­TELS BRAN­SON AT THE OPEN­ING OF VIR­GIN’S FIRST HO­TEL IN CHICAGO; THE COM­MONS CLUB; CITY VIEWS FROM THE BAR; A ROOM IN THE NEW HO­TEL.

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