IT’S A LOT MORE FUN BE­ING DAVID RATHER THAN GO­LIATH

Mint Asia ST - - Leisure - BAY RUN J ANARDHAN

Flam­boy­ant Bri­tish en­tre­pre­neur Richard Bran­son, founder of the Vir­gin Group of com­pa­nies, has jumped off build­ing roofs, launched his mo­bile ser­vice naked and at­tempted to go around the world on hot-air bal­loons.

The in­no­va­tive pub­lic re­la­tions ace says in his new book that it’s cru­cial in the job not to take your­self too se­ri­ously. Be­sides run­ning his com­pa­nies, with in­ter­ests in travel, tele­com, me­dia, en­ter­tain­ment, health and well­ness, among oth­ers, the 67-year-old grand­fa­ther has also writ­ten a num­ber of books, in­clud­ing his lat­est au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Find­ing My Vir­gin­ity (Pen­guin Ran­dom House). Edited ex­cerpts from a tele­phonic interview: Was it al­ways the plan to write a sec­ond book, a se­quel (to Los­ing My Vir­gin­ity)? If I live a long life, I will write a third one day. I think ev­ery­body should write a book, for your grand­chil­dren, for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. You don’t have to be fa­mous (to write a book). We all lead ex­tra­or­di­nary lives and it’s lovely to share your life with your fam­ily. I would love it if I could read the book of my great-great-grand­fa­ther who hap­pened to be mar­ried to an In­dian lady but he never wrote a book. Ob­vi­ously, I have been lucky enough to live a full life. My first book was read by some mil­lions of peo­ple and I keep get­ting peo­ple com­ing up to me and say­ing “be­cause I read the book I started a busi­ness or it changed my life”. I have writ­ten this book be­cause the last 20 years have been ex­cit­ing and it’s a good read. It’s got its ups and downs. Hope­fully, peo­ple will learn some­thing from it. What do you hope to achieve with the book? I feel it’s to in­spire young peo­ple, make them re­al­ize any­thing is pos­si­ble. I started (this busi­ness) with £200 to cre­ate what we have 90,000 peo­ple work­ing for to­day. Just to show that you can start a busi­ness with noth­ing. Do you keep a per­sonal di­ary that helps you re­mem­ber in­ci­dents and con­ver­sa­tions from the past?

I write ev­ery­thing down. That helps bring a book alive. I can’t un­der­stand peo­ple hav­ing meet­ings and not writ­ing things down. I en­cour­age any­one work­ing for a Vir­gin com­pany or any­one who reads my book to have note­books. That way they would be much more ef­fi­cient. Do you have a favourite story from the book? I would not call it a favourite but ob­vi­ously when we had the space ac­ci­dent (Space­shiptwo at Mo­jave in 2014). I had kept notes and emails dur­ing those dif­fi­cult days, on how the press re­acted and the staff re­acted. The chap­ter hav­ing to deal with an ac­ci­dent— it’s an im­por­tant les­son to learn. If I hadn’t kept my notes, it would have been dif­fi­cult.

There’s a part about my son (Sam)—he was 4-5 when I got mar­ried. The day af­ter, a friend of ours said he was get­ting mar­ried and my son said, “You can’t get mar­ried, you don’t have any chil­dren yet.”

An­other time I was pass­ing a school and this young girl of about 9 comes up to me and says, “You know some­thing? You look just like that Richard Bran­son bloke. Can I make a sug­ges­tion: You should sign up at a looka­like agency.” You have drawn a con­nec­tion be­tween en­trepreneur­ship and sto­ry­telling. Like they are in­te­gral to each other. Sto­ry­telling is im­por­tant, like with Vir­gin Hyper­loop One, which is a new busi­ness we are work­ing on where we are go­ing to be trans­port­ing peo­ple at 700 miles an hour in a tun­nel. If I am ex­plain­ing that to some­body... like in­stead of peo­ple go­ing to the air­port, hav­ing to go to one area, all the bag se­lec­tion and all the hor­rors of be­ing in an air­port, you get into a pod 300 miles away and (are) whisked straight to a par­tic­u­lar plane at the air­port. The story brings it alive and sud­denly peo­ple can see the vi­sion. Sto­ry­telling is a part of be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur and in­spir­ing peo­ple. I like to keep ev­ery­thing sim­ple and clear. If some­body is pitch­ing an idea to me, I want that to be told in 2-3 min­utes, a short story. The sense one gets from read­ing the book is that your life is al­ways ac­tion-packed. Is that by de­sign or co­in­ci­dence? You could ar­gue with both. If I say yes (it’s by de­sign), it would get me into trou­ble. Life is one long learn­ing process. I throw my­self into a whole lot of things: last week I was in an El­ders’ (an in­de­pen­dent group of global lead­ers) meet­ing in Lon­don, in the Mid­dle East, in New York, I am go­ing to Tus­cany to start build­ing our cruise ship com­pany, I am go­ing to be in Botswana, look­ing at game re­serves, South Africa…life is full, ex­cit­ing. When you talk about ri­val­ries and threats in the book, is the in­ten­tion to high­light the dirt­ier side of busi­ness? It’s just to try and tell a true story. When you write a book, it should not hurt in­di­vid­u­als, if you can avoid it. The story about T-mo­bile was cer­tainly show­ing the nas­tier side of busi­ness. In my pre­vi­ous book, the story about Bri­tish Air­ways and the way they be­haved... The press does not of­ten come to the de­fence of the small com­pa­nies, be­cause it’s eas­ier. They know big com­pa­nies will be around, there­fore they have to be nice to them.

It’s a lot more fun be­ing David rather than Go­liath. Build­ing com­pa­nies from scratch, tak­ing on big con­glom­er­ates, that’s how we have been and I have en­joyed (it). We try not to get our­selves into a com­fort­able Go­liath po­si­tion—if we feel we are get­ting too com­fort­able, we of­ten iden­tify the com­pa­nies and di­vide them into two or four. Small is beau­ti­ful when it comes to run­ning com­pa­nies. In the book, you say that you work fast with ideas and if they don’t stick, you quickly move on to the next. Is that a state­ment against per­sis­tence or for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion? Too many com­pa­nies are fright­ened of try­ing things. Some­times you can’t be sure if some­thing will be suc­cess­ful un­til you try it. The only way to know is to give it a go. We give a lot of things a go and if some­thing doesn’t work out, we move on to some­thing else. That’s a good rule. There is a thin line be­tween tak­ing a risk and mak­ing a mis­take, isn’t it? There is a thin di­vid­ing line be­tween suc­cess and fail­ure, par­tic­u­larly when you start businesses with­out fi­nan­cial back­ing. Try­ing to stay on the right side of that di­vid­ing line isn’t easy. That sep­a­rates some­one who is a good en­tre­pre­neur and some­one who doesn’t have good luck. I am try­ing to stay on the right side of it. How im­por­tant is so­cial me­dia for build­ing a busi­ness? It’s im­por­tant not just for build­ing a busi­ness, but for the so­cial side. We have 40 mil­lion fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia. I am lucky enough to be No. 1 on Linkedin. Ev­ery day, we can reach 40 mil­lion peo­ple around the world, which is more than most news­pa­pers. I find it won­der­fully im­por­tant. I don’t use my so­cial me­dia to pro­mote my businesses but ob­vi­ously, in­di­rectly, the fact that so many peo­ple read Richard Bran­son’s so­cial me­dia page means the businesses get pro­moted. Con­sid­er­ing one of the is­sues you care about is cli­mate change, how is the pol­i­tics around this go­ing to play out in the fu­ture? For­tu­nately, most sen­si­ble peo­ple around the world are be­liev­ers, in­clud­ing most gov­er­nors in Amer­ica. For­tu­nately, China and In­dia are on board and the eco­nom­ics are good. I think we will make it work. It will be tougher, when you have got the pres­i­dent of Amer­ica with his head in the sand. You seem to live your life and do your work with non­cha­lance. Does your method of func­tion­ing make more friends or en­e­mies? I am a big be­liever, as I said in the book, in not fall­ing out with any­body. Life’s too short to do that and if you do, make ev­ery ef­fort to patch it up. If that hap­pens with some­body, I would nor­mally phone them up, in­vite them for lunch, have a hug and that’s some­thing which is an im­por­tant part of life. There are few peo­ple I have fallen out with and if I do, I make sure to make up. How do you find the time to do so much? I am good del­e­ga­tor. I have a great team of peo­ple. I look af­ter my body: I make sure I play ten­nis ev­ery morn­ing, go kite surf­ing on the is­land. Too many peo­ple let them­selves go. I am great be­liever in find­ing ways of keep­ing fit.

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