November 3, 2016 / 1:02 PM / 2 years ago

Q&A-Up in the Air: Life Lessons from Richard Branson

By Chris Taylor
    NEW YORK, Nov 3 (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 approach business?
    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 have back?
    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
    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 Atlantic, going. 
    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
    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 them.
    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
    I don't think any true entrepreneur - or adventurer - would
let a little risk of failure put them off.

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