Lessons from latest autobiography from Richard Branson

If you want to be successful surround yourself with people who are way more successful than you.  Unfortunately, we are not always able to literally be around all successful people we would like to learn from. A great way to “spend time with them” is through books. That’s exactly what I have been doing for the past few months. I’ve been drinking my morning tea with Sir Richard Branson and his latest autobiography – Finding my Virginity.

He felt he needed to write the second autobiography (the first one is Losing my Virginity) because many things have happened since the first one was published.

Richard Branson is one of the richest people in the world. He is the founder of Virgin Group which has more than 400 companies, and 60.000 employees. After dropping out of high school at the age of 16, he started Student magazine which was his first entrepreneurial endeavor. His business operates in different continents and in various industries (transportation, space, health, enterntainment etc.)

If someone asks me who, out of all the famous people, I would love to meet in person and spend some time with (rent their brain), my answer would be fast and clear – Elon Musk (I wrote about his biography in this post) and Richard Branson. There are many fascinating people in the world, but these two are really pushing the science and the society a bit further. With Space X and Virgin Galactic, as well as other Musk’s crazy ideas (everything seems crazy and impossible until it’s done) and Branson’s Strive challenge and other projects – they really are disrupting our current reality and doing something greater than just business. When you start learning about all the things they are doing, starting and working on – and they all have the same amount of hours in a day as all of us – it leaves you with an impressive „wow“.

How Richard Branson see business:

I build companies because I love creating things that make a difference. Virgin America is a perfect example. I’m not motivated by more money in my bank account, other than to use it to create more things I’m proud of. A check in the bank is honestly not that exciting a thing. A living, breathing, heart of an airline with all its people, all that it is achieving and the difference it is making to lives is an enormously satisfying thing.“

When asked, what he would do if he loses all of his fortune and companies, he answers:

“While business may have changed from when I started out, the principles are the same and still fit what I am good at: finding markets that need shaking up, coming up with ways to make people’s lives better, then finding brilliant people to bring it to life. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. I’d find a gap in the market somewhere.”

“I’ve always believed if you see a way to improve on something, go ahead and do it yourself.”

Learning points from the book:

  • Business is fun & you don’t have to take your work too seriously to have great results.

As a matter of fact, you should be having fun the entire time. Add humor in everything you do!
He created a culture of fun in all his companies. That’s why Virgin airline was one of the first ones to have funny, creative and completely different safety instructions videos. That’s also why he would often do something unexpected and completely crazy like show up from the air at the corporate party.

When they ask Richard Branson: “How do you manage to keep the balance between work and play so well?” He replies with: “I make sure to treat them as equal priorities.”

Another sentence often quoted: „Ask for forgiveness, not permission.“ (referring to all the crazy, fun ideas no one would approve at first)

  • Keep challenging yourself – not just in business, but in life in general

The most successful people in the world really pay attention to their physical wellbeing. Healthy lifestyle should be everyone’s priority, and that is especially important when your responsibilities and stress at work is high. Well, the challenge is not to go to the gym or for a run regularly, that is too easy. Richard obviously has a thing with setting records. His breaking records obsession often gets him into trouble, but that’s where all the fun is.

He crossed the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. Few years later, he crossed the Pacific in a balloon. He crossed English Channel in an amphibious vehicle and did many other life-threatening, world-record-breaking attempts (many were successful, some were not). There is an appendix in the book with the list of all records he tried to break and all dangerous activities that happened because of that:

fnding my virginity apendix

It would take regular people a couple of lives to go through all the experiences he had.

For business (and for life) he says:

„My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them … from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.“

„Developing mental toughness isn’t just about being resilient – it’s about accessing your reserve tank when you think you just can’t go any further.“

  • Have consistent core values

It is very clear that the importance of family is not just in words but he walks the talk. Regardless of money, fame, being busy and running all the businesses, family is crucial and center part of his life. Not many people manage to keep that as their success (and responsibilities) goes up.

For business suceess, the most important is to have the right team, as he says:

“What I’m good at is coming up with interesting ideas and then finding amazing people to turn them into reality.”

  • Deal with the crisis situations right away, be present and be there for your people

There is a story in the book when Virgin train had an accident – it was derailed and there were casualties. He was in Switzerland on a vacation with his family and immediately flew to the scene where the accident took place. He said that if his kids were in a similar accident, he would like to know that the business owner is involved, interested and at the place of the accident.

  • Take risks

Change is the only consistent thing in life and therefore, it is important to innovate and stir things even when everything is going well.

“Virgin could become too risk averse without me. It is easier for me, as a founder, to be risky. When you’re CEO or a board member, it is more difficult, as you are playing with somebody else’s money. But I have every confidence the adventurous streak that Virgin was built on runs deep, alongside the shrewd business sense. With a sound investment strategy and a great team, our success rate should keep going up – but only if we keep sticking our necks out.

„It is very important to take risks in life and business, but they need to be calculated – there is no point in risking your neck for something with little chance of success. Question things more! You shouldn’t blindly accept a leader’s advice.“

One of the amusing story is when Virgin Atlantic couldn’t get gates to fly from NY:
“We started selling tickets to destinations we planned to serve, from NYC to DC, San Francisco to LA. Sure, we didn’t actually have the slots to fly them yet, but why let that get in the way?
We were finally awarded the gates. I was proud that our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the public had not gone unnoticed. It proved once again that having the facts on your side is one thing, but telling a story with just enough charm and chutzpah can make all the difference.”

“Regretting not doing something is worse than regretting doing something. It means I can sleep with a clear conscience. We all have to fight for our values and protect the things that matter to us, but also appreciate the joys life brings us. “

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