- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Richard BransonAn Entrepreneur's Life
You can like Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin business empire, or you can dislike him; but one thing you can't say about him is that he's dull.
Whether he's performing feats of youthful derring-do, founding a new business, or ballooning and sailing under the riskiest conditions, his life has been packed with challenge, adventure, interesting characters, terrifying crises, and big money. You might think that someone with this kind of fame and wealth would be rather full of himself. Not so. In his autobiography (it's just the first volume, he says), he's really quite modest, and he candidly describes his failures, his defects, and his bad decisions.
In other words, he's as human as you and I -- perhaps more so.
Branson tells his story with an appealing absence of self-aggrandizement, with great vigor, with an eye for the interesting detail and an ear for the amusing anecdote. Born to an eccentric family of modest means in Shamley Green, Surrey, he takes after his mother and tries his hand at various boyish business enterprises: growing Christmas trees, hunting rabbits, breeding parakeets. He becomes one of those boys who is no good at school but proves to be very good indeed, later, at real life. He is dyslexic and has difficulty learning to read. He can't do arithmetic (until the day comes when he's calculating the profits of his businesses, at which time his math is dead accurate). He starts a student newspaper. He notices that what young people are really spending their money on is records. He gets out of the newspaper business and begins selling records, before realizing that the real money lies in making those records rather than merely hawking them.
The rest is history. Branson signs an unknown artist named Mike Oldfield, whose TUBULAR BELLS sells millions. He branches into other businesses, operating more on instinct than on statistics and profit projections. His philosophy seems to be: Work hard and have fun.
"Business is a way of life," he writes. He revels in the "all-embracing, glorious chaos" of his enterprises. His personal life and his work blur together, to the chagrin of wives number one and two. His business ventures take in book publishing, nightclubs, film, catering, apparel, and many other areas. He is unfailingly restless, creative, resourceful. He is a juggler with a dozen balls in the air at once. He is an active participant in his businesses, not a desk jockey. Every week brings new battles against bankers and cash-flow crises. Eventually, of course, he founds Virgin Airways.
The latter part of the book deals with Branson's counterattack against British Airways, which ultimately pays him a large libel settlement and admits to conducting a dirty-tricks campaign to try to put Virgin Airways out of business.
Branson's ballooning and other adventures parallel his adventures in business: challenges that are full of excitement and danger. His narrative of his life, through his late 40s, is like the young tycoon himself: brisk, direct, energetic, and seasoned with a sort of wonder at life.
For Richard Branson, life has been a heck of a ride, and it hasn't hurt that he has made a few pounds along the way.
Richard Norman is a writer and entrepreneur based in Norwich, Connecticut.