Sir Richard Branson’s Advice to his Younger Self


In the video below, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, talks to President and COO of Goldman Sachs. My favorite part of the interview was the question and answer below. I shared it on twitter and Branson liked it as well.

Question: If you could go back to yourself as a 16 year old and give yourself one piece of advice based on what you’ve learned over the last five decades, what would that piece of advice be?

Branson: My mom had very good advice. If I ever, ever said anything even slightly negative about anybody, she sent me to the mirror, and made me stand in front of the mirror for 10 minutes, and look in the mirror, and she just said it reflects so badly on you, I don’t want you ever, ever, ever to say ill of anybody ever again. That’s really good advice. I think, especially as a leader, you’ve got to always be looking for the best in people, and if you look for the best you get the best.

Here is the entire interview with time stamps below it:

0:00 Introduction

0:31 - Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from?

4:32 - How did you start Virgin Records?

8:39 - What did you get right about the airline business?

14:12 - Not an easy business?

15:54 - Virgin Space video

18:42 - What is it taking to get this done?

21:32 - Biggest challenges?

24:07 - What are you learning about now?

26:44 - Virgin Unite?

31:03 - What is special about the Virgin culture?

36:12 - Who do you admire?

37:47 - Advice to a younger self?

38:48 - Lighting round

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Another great story about starting Virgin Airlines:

I was 28 years old, I was trying to get to the Virgin Islands, there was a gorgeous woman waiting for me. It was six in the evening, I hadn't been home for three weeks, and the American Airlines decide that they're going to bump the flight because they didn't have enough passengers.

So, I thought, dammit, I'm going to get there somehow or another. So, I went to the back of the airport, I hired a plane and hoped my credit card wouldn't bounce, and I borrowed a blackboard, and I wrote Virgin Airlines, one way, $39 Dollars to the BBI, and I went out to all the people who got bumped and I filled up my plane.

Richard Branson: So, I had to do a few discounts, one or two. So when we got to the BBI ... Actually, I better skip that part of the story. The next morning, with a big smile on my face, I rang up Boeing and I said, “Could I talk to your sales department?” And-

Richard Branson: And I was put through to this lovely, lovely man called RJ Wilson, who I will always remember, and he took the phone call, and I said, “Do you have any second-hand 747s for sale?” And he said, “Well, yes, we do. Could you tell me who you are?” And I said, “My name's Richard Branson, I have a record company called Virgin, you know, we have Janet Jackson, we have the Rolling Stones, we have the Sex Pistols.” And he said, “Well, what do you want a 747 for?” So, I said, “Well, I ... Airlines are not that well run, and I think we could start an airline that could give British Airways a run for their money.”

And there was a long pause, and then ... I mean, I was just very lucky it was him at the other end of the phone call, as it ... Once I got to know him later, I realized how lucky I was. Anyway, he ... There was a long pause, and he said, “Richard, is that ... That's what you said your name was, Richard?” “Yeah.” He said, “Look, I'll come and see you,” he said, “But, obviously, you're going to have to change the name of your company. I mean, nobody would expect an airline with the name Virgin to go the whole way."

Speaker 1: That's a good one. I bet you've used that before.

Richard Branson: So, anyway, he came, and we got a 747. I'm going to give one bit of useful business advice, they ... When ... So, you can imagine the people who were running the record company with me got in a complete panic when I told them that we were moving into the airline business.

And, so, I had to convince them that the airline wasn't going to bring the record company down, and obviously the most important thing in business is protecting the downside, and so the most important part of the negotiation with Boeing was to persuade them that if the airline didn't work out as I thought it would, that we could hand the plane back at the end of the first year, and they actually agreed on that.