Each week, C2 brings you news about some of the big names that have graced our stage at previous editions. Featured speaker: Sir Richard Branson, C2 Montréal 2013.
A business titan moving heaven and Earth
The founder of Virgin Group is not your average billionaire. Sir Richard Branson puts pleasure first. His sartorial signature is jeans and a white tee. A certain fearlessness is largely what built his empire. But leave it to the famously eccentric business magnate to sum up his approach best: “Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or the fastest way to do it. Think what’s the most amazing way to do it!”
Created in 1972, Virgin Group now owns no fewer than 60 companies, including Virgin Records, Virgin Media, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Hyperloop One. As of his 69th birthday in July of this year, the good Sir’s worth was estimated at a cool $4 billion (U.S.).
What did he share at C2 Montréal?
When he swung by C2 in 2013, Sir Richard revealed some of his secrets for leadership success: delegate, listen to people, invest in your employees and give them as much flexibility as possible. C2 participants also got to discover a man who sees the big picture — then dreams even bigger.
“I’ve dreamt a lot and I’ve tried to make all my dreams come true,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to dream without limits.”
Additionally, Sir Richard shared his thoughts on space tourism and exploration, right around the time Virgin Galactic was preparing for its very first flight. He also expressed concern for the environment, saying that if he were to launch his debut company today, it would definitely be based on renewables.
“Energy makes the world go round, but also destroys it,” he cautioned before optimistically delving into the future of wind power and energy-efficient building upgrades.
What’s new since C2?
After a setback in 2014, which saw SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise disintegrate during a test flight, VSS Unity carried out Virgin Galactic’s first successful suborbital space flight in December 2018, followed by another in February 2019. On October 28, 2019, Virgin Galactic went public — an industry first. Now space tourism is close to taking off as well, with an initial commercial expedition slated for 2020.
Ever the distinguished philanthropist, Sir Richard dedicates about 80% of his time to Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s charity arm, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2015. On top of providing vital medical care in Africa, the foundation is fighting for LGBT rights on the continent through its Branson Centres, which have helped some 4,000 entrepreneurs launch their very own startup.
Branson also takes the well-being of his employees seriously, advocating for flexible working conditions. “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.” In 2018, he announced unlimited vacation for his people, stating “If working nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual [vacation] policies?”
Always ready to embrace the new, Sir Richard is keeping a keen eye on blockchain technology, which he considers an economic revolution in the making. Since 2015, he’s presided over the Blockchain Summit, an annual event held on one of his private British Virgin Islands (last year marked the only exception, when the gathering was moved to his Kasbah Tamadot retreat in Morocco due to Hurricane Irma).
As part of WorldPride 2019, Virgin Atlantic launched the first Pride flight ever with a 100% LGBTQ crew. Included in the ticket price: DJ, drag bingo, speed dating and live performances.
After conquering the skies, railways, upscale hotels and even space, Virgin is now setting its sights on our oceans. In March 2020, Virgin Voyages launches its line with the Scarlet Lady, a cruise ship that will sail year round between Miami and ports in the Caribbean. The idea: a floating festival for passengers in search of “rebellious luxe.” A second vessel — the Mediterranean-based Valiant Lady — rolls out in 2021, with two more to follow by 2023.
With a brain that’s brimming over with ideas, Sir Richard isn’t short on projects for 2020. Although the business rock star truly is one of a kind, the key to his success is actually quite universal: do what you love, then do it with passion and authenticity.
“I enjoy every minute of my life and the variety of what we do,” he recently told Bloomberg. “True, sometimes I glance in the mirror and wonder who the hell is looking back. But I don’t feel any older and I want [to] carry on and use the experience that I have.”
We, too, hope he’ll keep us dreaming big for a long time to come.
Just ask Branson: boundaries are meant to be broken
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