Last week, I went to the launch of Richard Branson’s new book ‘Finding my Virginity’ which was a brilliant and inspirational evening.
I was fortunate enough to take part in the Q&A session with him and wanted to share with you the valuable business insight and motivational advice from the interview.
I felt that this would be a particularly valuable addition to the ‘Sales Leader of the Week’ series as it not only provides wisdom to inspire the business leaders of tomorrow, but also illustrates the humility and authenticity of someone who has constantly worked to innovate and disrupt the ‘status quo’.
Q. ‘What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?’
A. Well I suppose since I left school at 15 I didn’t really go for school advice, but let me think. What advice could I give somebody? I think the advice I would give other people is follow your dreams, do what you’re good at. Doing what you enjoy, actually, is the most important thing.
Q. ‘What one thing do you wish you had invented?’
A. I went on stage once with Larry Page from Google at a Google conference and Larry introduces me and says ‘This is Richard Branson, he’s got 300 companies and I’ve only got one.’ and quick as a flash I said ‘swap.’
Q. ‘What are the three most important skills for an entrepreneur?’
A. Well, I think the ability to spot a gap in the market and the ability to know you have an idea that can fill that gap are important. The ability to know that you can surround yourself with wonderful people who can help you create something really special and get out there and market your product to get people to know it exists. I think those three maybe.
Q. 'Do you feel everyone has it in them to be an entrepreneur?'
A. Absolutely, it’s quite strange because when I started in business I don’t think the word entrepreneur existed. I mean, maybe in France because that’s where it came from, but I don’t think in Britain that anyone knew about entrepreneurs. Everything was run by governments; British Gas, British Airways, British Telecom, British Steel, British Coal.
They were dreadfully run, it was ghastly and when I started there was one woman who started as well called Anita Roddick, who later founded The Body Shop, and the two of us would be wheeled out for interviews as two token entrepreneurs, so we got more than our fair share of coverage which was obviously helpful.
But now, what’s so exciting is that in those days people, parents, would frown on people who went and tried to create something. Parents would feel their children needed to get a proper job, become a lawyer, become an accountant or whatever, but now people are so proud of it when their kids give it a go.
I think the important thing is if people give it a go and fall flat on their face, they just have to realise they will be admired for trying. They just have to pick themselves up, just like a two-year old falls flat on their face as they’re learning to walk. They keep falling down, keep picking themselves up and finally they learn to walk. It’s the same for an entrepreneur, they just have to keep going until they succeed.
Q. ‘How do you remain calm in the face of danger?’
A. I don’t think you have any choice, I mean I’ve had long drawn out moments where I was facing almost certain death, like when I was crossing the Pacific in a hot air balloon and we lost half our fuel and on paper, there was no way we were going to make land. The only chance we had was to fly the balloon right in the core of the Jetstream and somehow, when I did that, the speedometer went right up to 240 miles per hour flying across the Pacific and we landed. We did miss LA where we were aiming for by 3000 miles - we landed in the Arctic but we did land on land!
Anyway, you have to stay calm. I think in life I’m fortunate I’ve never lost my temper. I think losing your temper, getting upset with yourself and other people is counterproductive. Looking for the best in everybody is much better. When I was young, if I had ever said a bad word about somebody my Mum would send us to the mirror, make us stand in front of the mirror for ten minutes and just said how badly this reflects on you. And having looked on the mirror for a while, it wasn’t a pretty sight so I never said bad things about anybody ever again.
Q. ‘What’s your favourite city and why?’
A. I love Sydney. Actually, I love Australians and I think they’re just lovely outgoing people and they’re always incredibly welcoming. It’s a long way to go so I suppose you need to make sure they’re welcoming when you get there but I’ve always loved going to Australia.
Q. ‘What advice would you give a wannabee island owner?’
A. A wannabee island owner…there’s nothing nicer. You can make as much noise as you like, you can party as hard as you like, you’ve got no neighbours to get upset with you. You can draw up the drawbridge, you can let your hair down, you can never have to wear shoes or socks. It’s a special thing so if they can buy an island then find an island – I would recommend going for it.