Sir Richard Branson: from small record shop to 300 companies

SIR Richard Branson, who built his career from record shop owner to Virgin Group billionaire, told a QUT Business Leaders' Forum yesterday that business leadership was about bringing great ideas to market and benefitting communities in the process. He urged business owners and leaders to take a higher view of their businesses and to have faith in their best ideas.

Sir Richard Branson (seated, centre) with members of his Carbon War Room initiative: yesterday in Brisbane he commented that carbon taxes should be applied on a global basis, so as not to disadvantage some countries.


Sir Richard told a sold-out QUT Business Leaders' Forum at the Hilton Brisbane about his career as an entrepreneur, which began with a student magazine he launched at 15 years old. Earlier he had made a keynote address at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre - and today's Summit keynote speaker is former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

More than 300 companies in 30 countries are now part of Sir Richard's Virgin Group empire, including businesses in air and rail travel, telecommunications, media and space tourism.

In an hour-long interview with ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien, Sir Richard talked about his drives and vision for business - and how business interconnects with and assists communities.

Sir Richard said his best businesses ventures were not based on making money.

"The most successful businesses I've launched came out of the desire to create. I hated flying on other people's airlines," he said.

"I thought I could create an airline I would want to fly on. I never thought I could make lots of money doing it. I created an airline that I wanted to fly on, other people liked it."

Sir Richard later joked he was financially illiterate.

"I never use accountants when I'm launching a new business," he said.

Sir Richard called on businesses to play a greater role in philanthropy and discussed the work of Virgin's independent charitable arm, Virgin Unite.

"More and more business leaders are turning their companies into forces of good," he said.

Sir Richard urged business owners to delegate the "nitty-gritty", day-to-day processes of running a business to others to free up time to "think about the bigger picture" and try new ventures.

"Just give it a go. Try it out, you'll soon know if your idea is going to work or not," he said.

"If you do fail, you haven't really failed. You've just had a great education."

Sir Richard also spoke in earnest about challenges facing the music industry and book stores in the last 10 years - and their precarious future.

"I don't think music shops will survive. You'll get a few second-hand, historic music shops that may still be around in a decade's time. I think the writing's on the wall for music shops, I think the writing's on the wall for book shops," he said.

"People who swore they would never read books on an iPad or a Kindle, more and more people are doing it now. Obviously, it's sad. I think it's just the way things are. Other things will hopefully replace these."

Sir Richard also talked about testing times in the airline industry, which for him included when birds flew into the engine of his first Virgin plane during a test flight.

"I jokingly said about 27 years ago that the easiest way of becoming a millionaire is to start off as a billionaire and go into the airline industry," Sir Richard said.

"It's certainly a very challenging industry."

The next speaker at the QUT Business Leaders Forum will be Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly.





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