Sir Richard Branson, An Inspiration
It’s safe to say, Sir Richard Branson is no ordinary person. Sir Richard Branson, best known for his Virgin group of companies where he runs some 400 companies under the Virgin umbrella that has the presence in multitude of industries, whether it is Music, Railways, Airways, Credit Cards, Mobile, Beverages, Cars, Publishing and Books, Fitness Clubs, Holiday Planning, and various other sectors.
But do you know long before that he is a dyslexic dropped out of school at the age of 16? School wasn’t just a challenge for Richard, it was a nightmare. His dyslexia embarrassed him as he had to memorize and recite word for word in public.
Because of dyslexia, he had trouble fitting into the academic structure of traditional schooling. Like a lot of other entrepreneurs, his skills were not in taking academic tests but in connecting with people and making things happen.
In the late 60’s and frustrated with the Vietnam War, he decided to launch his own magazine to give the students a voice. He didn’t have any money, so he rang up Coca-Cola and Pepsi and National Westminster Bank, trying to get them to buy advertising. He said he had no idea what he was doing then, but somehow his enthusiasm managed to land him $6,000 worth of advertising. The cost is now covered and the first run of 50,000 copies was disseminated for free.
He wrote his headmaster a note that said, “I’m off! But thank you very much,” and he left school to launch the magazine business.
A few people tried to talk me out of it. My father was the first. He’d have been an irresponsible father if he hadn’t. He drove up to the school to persuade me to continue my studies, and reluctantly, I agreed. He wanted me to be a lawyer, like him. But when he went home, my mother was not happy. She ordered him to turn around and tell me it was OK. On that second visit, he took me on a walk around the garden to lecture me on the perils of what I was doing. At the end, he said, “Look, you know what you want to do at 15; I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was 21. Give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll try to get you a formal education again.”
He was a wonderful father. Because, if you have a good idea, 99 percent of people will tell you why it’s no good or how it’s been done before or why else you’re going to fall flat on your face. You’ve just got to say, “Screw it; just do it” and get on with it. If you fail, pick yourself up and try another one. If you have enough determination, you will succeed more likely than not because of all you learned those times you didn’t.
The magazine Student debuted in January, 1968. The magazine carried articles from prominent politicians, rock music stars, intellectuals and movie celebrities. Student magazine became a nationwide publication and a profitable enterprise. The headmaster of Stowe, where Richard was student, wrote: “Congratulations, Branson. I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.”
In 1970 Richard was thinking about ways to fund his magazine business. It was during this time that Richard had the idea to begin an audio record mail-order business with friends to sell records cheaper than other stores that were not discounting records.
Richard began to run ads in the Student offering records at discount prices. The orders flooded in and record sales soon became more lucrative than magazine subscription sales.
Then Richard and friend found an empty shop above a shoe store and persuaded the owner to let them build shelves and move in a couple of old sofas for their first store. In lieu of rent, they promised that they’d bring so much traffic that the shoe store’s business would pick up too. After that they needed a name. They considered “Slipped Disc” and “Virgin” and chose the latter because “we’re complete virgins at business.” In retrospect, Richard says he’s happy they went with the alternate name. Slipped Disc Airlines just wouldn’t have the customer appeal of Virgin Airlines.
In 1972 he opened a chain of record stores, Virgin Records. Richard built a recording studio in Oxfordshire and went on to sign Mike Oldfield, many household names from Culture Club to the Rolling Stones, helping to make Virgin Music one of the top six record companies in the world.
Richard formed Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984. Virgin Airlines is very much a Richard Branson style company. Instead of getting caught in the downward spiral of chopping fares and cutting service, he’s taken a stand of reasonable fares on transatlantic flights with amenities like in-flight massages, ice cream with movies and soon, private bedrooms, showers and exercise facilities.
Since then, Virgin has grown to be one of the most recognized brands in Britain. Branson has launched a variety of businesses ranging from cellular phones to soft drinks to bridal wear. More than 400 companies carry the Virgin name.
Branson created his foundation, Virgin Unite in 2004, to unite people to tackle tough social and environmental problems in an entrepreneurial way. Virgin Unite’s overhead is covered by Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, meaning that 100% of donations received go directly to the frontline where they are needed most.
Richard Branson was knighted in 1999 by the Queen of England for services to entrepreneurship.
According to the Forbes 2012 list of billionaires, Richard Branson has an estimated net worth of US$4.2 billion.
While we all are not the business maverick like Sir Richard Branson, there’s much to learn from him
Rise above challenges
- Richard left school when he was 16 years old partly because of his dyslexia. He couldn’t always follow what was going on, so he didn’t find the lessons interesting and became distracted. His teachers thought he was just lazy because back then, people didn’t understand as much about dyslexia as they do today.
- It wasn’t until he was a young adult that he fully recognized that he had dyslexia. By then, he also knew that challenges can be the driving force for success. And in fact, a 2005 study found that one in three American entrepreneurs identifies as dyslexic, while others have shown that people with this disability tend to excel at detecting patterns and grasping the bigger picture. Entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Ted Turner and Charles Schwab all had dyslexia.
So if you are dyslexic (or for that matter in anyway feel that you are not as good as others), it is important that you do not allow yourself to feel inferior. Vary your activities and interests so that you can uncover your strengths — in his case, he knew that he wanted to create something to get young people’s voice across and that meant creating a magazine and a business.
- Richard says, If I come across a particular business which is not run properly, and if I think, that I can do it better, I just go for it. One best example of this is his Airline Business, he found that airline companies at that time where not listening to customers. The feeling inspired him to start his own airline company that would keep customers at center.
- Richard started his airline company with just a single plane that was on lease from Boeing on a one year agreement. His idea was to take a calculated risk. He says if at all I would fail I had nearly nothing to lose, just the six months of profit from my record business, but if I succeed then you know, what I am gaining. Virgin Atlantic Airways grew into an international business with annual sales of about 1.5 billion pounds.
- In fact Richard Branson claims no prior expertise in his hundreds of companies that make him money. Instead, he relies on his magic touch of empowering people’s ideas to fuel success. When a flight attendant approached him with her vision of a wedding business, Richard told her to go do it. He even put on a wedding dress himself to help launch the publicity.
Video: Watch Richard Branson talking about his journey from a dyslexic high school dropout to one of the world’s richest men.
Refusal to give in
- Richard Branson was often ridiculed by the media, especially the print media, for his irrational strategies.
- Eight times Richard tried to be the first to fly around the world in a balloon. And although he wasn’t the first to circumnavigate the globe, he was the first to cross the Atlantic and the first to cross the Pacific.
And although he technically “failed”, still, he has no regrets. “I crossed the Himalayas, had incredible adventures – and survived to come back to Necker to be with the family. That’s helped me understand that there are more important things than being first.”
“I think anyone can do what they want to do if they try to do it and if they give it their best shot. They won’t necessarily succeed and they may well fall flat on their face but they’ll have a lot of fun trying. Just be the best at what they can do and not worry about failure. I’ve actually learned more from people who’ve tried and failed than necessarily from people who’ve tried and been successful. We can learn a lot from people who have tried and failed, because you can also learn the mistakes they made and how to avoid them.”
Learn from failures
Many never say “Yes” or take the first step because of fear of failure. According to Richard, “There’s no way that you can create a lot of successful businesses and not have failures on the way. If you’re afraid of failure, you’re not going to create anything.”
The Brave may not live forever – but the cautious do not live at all! — Sir Richard Branson
- In 1994, He had launched Virgin Cola and Virgin Vodka, which received cold response from the market. The same goes for the other drink products produced by Virgin — Virgin Vines, Virgin Energy Shot, and Virgin Ooze (a fizzy alcoholic drink).
- In 1994, Sir Richard made a bid to run the National Lottery, promising to give all the profits to charity, and lost. He failed with a second bid five years later.
- In 1996, discount airline Virgin Express that was based in Brussels was launched to rival EasyJet. But after losses, the airline close in 2006 and now flies as Brussels Airline.
- In 1996, Virgin Brides opened its doors in several locations throughout England in 1996. The store stopped taking orders in December 2007 after suffering losses in the intensely competitive bridal market.
- In 1997, Branson took over some of Britain’s aging railway network, under the title Virgin Rail. Despite the introduction of new trains, the network is still dogged by delays and service interruptions. It badly damaged the reputation of the Virgin brand which was established after so much pain and effort.
- In 1997, Virgin Vie was a line of cosmetics and toiletries sold online, in Virgin stores, and at home parties. After stores closed due to disappointing sales, the brand focused on direct selling and became Virgin Vie At Home. Then, in 2009, it just became Vie At Home when Virgin wrote off £21million in loans as it made its way out the door.
- In 1998, Virgin Clothing was a line of men’s and women’s clothing, footwear and accessories aimed at the 18-to-35 set. It was only sold in U.K. retailers and department stores. The brand folded in 2000 with losses to shareholders.
- In 2000, Virgin Cars, an Internet automobile retailer was launched. While Branson predicted the company would sell 24,000 cars in the first year, by October 2000, the company had sold only 2,000 cars. By 2003, the site had only sold 12,000 cars total. The company stopped operating in 2005.
- In 2003, Branson decided he wanted Virgin to become the next Victoria’s Secret with Virginware. In July 2005, Virginware took its final breaths with a fire sale of 35,000 pairs of Virgin-branded bras and G-strings.
- In 2004, Virgin Pulse and Virgin Digital were Branson’s answer to the iPod and iTunes, respectively. “We founded the company in 2004 and then folded it a year later when it failed to make inroads against the major brands. The rise of Apple’s iPods and iTunes meant that Virgin’s device suddenly looked out of date before we had even launched it,” he wrote.
- In 2007, Virgin Charter was launched with the purpose of selling “empty leg” flights (flights that are available when a private jet flies back to its home airport after delivering passengers to their destination). Unfortunately, the recession put a damper on the whole private jet industry and the company closed shop in 2009.
- In 2007, Branson also bought a ten per cent stake in Malaysian airline AirAsia X and bid to buy a 30 per cent stake in Northern Rock, which failed.
Wow, now that’s a series of awful “failures”….. They happened to Richard Branson (in fact I omitted some so the list does not get too long…) and it did not deter him a bit. So after reading through all these “failures”, and if we are faced with the same situations, I hope we can muster our courage to face the adversity instead of letting it drags us down.
“If you’ve failed, just pick yourself up and start again the next day and learn from the experience. Be bold and be brave.” — Sir Richard Branson
Failure is nothing more than another way to learn.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Video: Richard Branson talks to TED’s Chris Anderson about the ups and the downs of his career, from his multibillionaire success to his multiple near-death experiences — and reveals some of his (very surprising) motivations.
Richard’s self-confidence, refusal to give in and readiness to challenge largely accepted norms became the fertile grounds on which success blossomed. This is not to say that the man never second guesses himself or doubts his decisions at times. What counts is that he never let self-doubt hinder him from trying, and he refused to let stigmas of the society pull him down. His achievements were borne of the faith he had in himself, and no amount of ridicule could rob him of that faith.
If a man suffering from dyslexia could go on to found a megabrand with a plethora of businesses beneath its umbrella, than others can overcome their obstacles and emerge victorious, too.
It is the individual who decides what he/she is capable of, not society.
So face your fears with a battle cry of, “Screw it. Let’s do it!” You will be amazed at what you can accomplish — both at work and at play.
Yes, screw it, just do it!
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