Richard Branson chats to us about family, success and his new book Finding My Virginity
RD: What prompted you to write a follow up to Losing My Virginity?
So much has happened in the past 20 years that I knew it was the right time to write a sequel to Losing My Virginity. What’s more, it’s a really interesting process—writing a book—you learn so much about yourself and it can spark a lot of new ways of thinking. It’s also really fun to remember all the highs and lows and how you got to where you are.
"I love creating things with wonderful people, pushing boundaries and having fun in everything I do"
RD: What story in Finding My Virginity do you think people will be most surprised to read and why?
I think the story of Virgin Hyperloop in the paperback will surprise a lot of people. Lots of people have heard a little about hyperloop technology now, but the details are fascinating and a revolution in the way we all travel is not so far away.
RD: How is Richard Branson the businessman today different from Richard Branson the businessman 40 years ago?
Well, there are more similarities than differences. I still love creating things with wonderful people, pushing boundaries and having fun in everything I do. But now I focus even more on putting purpose at the heart of our work, both through our foundation Virgin Unite but also in our for-profit businesses, from Virgin Atlantic’s sustainable aviation initiatives to Virgin E Racing’s clean energy efforts.
Writing the autobiography really helped me think about how I’ve changed, and how I can keep changing further in the time I have left.
"The things that matter most to me—my family, their health, their wellbeing—can’t be bought with money"
RD: If you had to distil your life down to a motto, what would it be and why?
“Screw it, let’s do it!” Because I love saying yes, and giving people the opportunity to create new and exciting things. I’m known as Dr Yes at Virgin, as I don’t know how to say no to a good idea. If I grasp a concept quickly, it excites me and it solves a problem, then I don’t wait for financial analysis or long group discussions—I say, “screw it, let’s do it.” There are more examples of me following through on that motto in Finding My Virginity than I could count!
RD: What’s something most people don’t realise about being very wealthy?
It may be a cliché, but being wealthy doesn’t necessarily make you happy—it’s the people you surround yourself with and the way you live your life that can do that. The things that matter most to me—my family, their health, their wellbeing—can’t be bought with money.
RD: What could you never give up in life?
My family. The time I spend with my wife, our kids, our grandchildren, my mum, my sisters and all of our loved ones, is the most treasured time on earth.
RD: If you could own any business other than your own, which would you pick and why?
There’s a story in Finding My Virginity about a talk I did with my friend Larry Page, who co-founded Google. He was kindly praising me for starting more than 400 businesses. Quick as a flash, I told him: “I’ll swap!”
RD: Donald Trump is perhaps your American equivalent in terms of fame from business. Do you have any designs to go into politics one day? What do you make of him as a man?
I think I can make a much bigger impact upon the causes I care about, from climate change to drug policy reform, by staying out of party politics. As for the President of the United States? I share some, let’s say, interesting letters we exchanged in the book…
"I don’t see any separation between work and play—it’s all living"
RD: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? Did it pay off?
In business, probably starting Virgin Atlantic. We had the biggest independent record label in the world, but absolutely no experience in aviation. Everybody—my own team included—thought we were mad to try to take on British Airways.
But it’s only by taking calculated risks that we can move things forward. On a personal note, I’ve taken more risks with my life than most—at the last count, I’ve had 76 close shaves with death!
RD: What does your daily morning routine look like?
I wake up early, before 6am, and after checking my emails for anything urgent I head to the tennis courts for a hard game of singles. If I’m on Necker, then I’ll often go for a kitesurf around the island. After breakfast I’ll get down to business. But I don’t see any separation between work and play—it’s all living. I’m incredibly fortunate that no two days are the same, and long may that variety continue.
RD: Is there a third book in the making?
Absolutely. I look forward to writing the third in the trilogy in a few decades time, hopefully from up in space, looking back on the beauty of earth, with my family and friends alongside me.
Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson out now in paperback in bookstores and online by Virgin Books