People often ask me what drives me – what motivates me to undertake new challenges. They also like to know how I got to where I am today and how I like to spend my time away from work. Here is a glimpse into my life and some tips for yours.
Q: What motivates you?
A: The opportunity to learn new things, try new ventures and meet new people. I have been very fortunate to have led an interesting life. Part of that has been because of my willingness, and Virgin's willingness, to keep trying new ventures.
Q: How important is money to you?
A: I pursue what I am passionate about, whether that will make money or not. Often I find that if you are really passionate and committed, you do better – and have a better chance of making the venture pay the bills. Money has enabled me to start up and support a number of philanthropic causes through Virgin Unite. I hope we can play a part in leaving the world in better shape than we found it.
Q: Whom do you admire personally and professionally?
A: I admire many people both personally and professionally. One of the best things about my life is getting to meet many incredible people on my travels and through work. We now employ almost 50,000 people worldwide and, as often as I can, I pop into the offices to meet and talk with the staff. Not only do they all give 150 percent and really believe in what they are doing – which helps keep me going – but they're also great fun and love a party, which keeps me young. (Well, young at heart, anyway!)
Outside of my friends, family and staff, here are a few of the people I admire: Freddie Laker, the founder of Laker Airways, one of the first "no frills" carriers; Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison before he became president of South Africa; Desmond Tutu, the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who chaired his country's Truth and Reconciliation Committee; Peter Gabriel, the successful English musician and songwriter (once the lead vocalist and flautist for the progressive rock group Genesis) who now produces and promotes world music and humanitarian causes; the late Mo Mowlam, who was the secretary of state for Northern Ireland when the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed in 1998; and the aviation genius Burt Rutan, an American aerospace engineer who designed the Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, and the sub-orbital spaceplane SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space twice within a two-week period.
All of them have exhibited courage, talent and a zest for getting things done that I really admire.
Q: Who or what inspires you in life?
A: I have had great support from my family and friends. Two very different characters spring to mind. First is the late Steve Fossett, a dear friend and fellow adventurer. We first met when we were competing for ballooning records. In the end we combined our efforts, and Steve flew around the world in the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, on one tank of fuel, without stopping. He kept pushing and challenging himself, taking on the impossible and often achieving it. He has motivated me to try to do the same!
Nelson Mandela’s life and story also have inspired me tremendously. He went through many hardships with great dignity and strength. He has devoted his life to making his country and our world a better place. Recently, we worked together with Peter Gabriel to set up the Elders, a group of former world leaders who are using their knowledge and experience to resolve conflicts in the world. It is fascinating to listen to this group of eminent global leaders and to see what they are trying to do to mitigate the causes of human suffering. Check it out on www.theelders.org.
Q: What is a typical day in your life? Is there such a thing?
A: I don't think I ever have a "typical day." But when I'm home on Necker Island, I find it is the perfect place for work, play and life. I always wake early – I love that quiet time in the morning. Let's face it: I have the most beautiful office in the world: a hammock overlooking the British Virgin Islands! A fantastic place for reflection, it sets me up for the day and the surprises that are bound to happen. I come up with more ideas on that hammock than I ever would anywhere else. Plus we are well-positioned from Necker to deal with all the time zones that the Virgin group operates in.
I like to start my day with a swim. After breakfast I hit the phone. I still far prefer talking to people to having email. I don't have set start and finish times. At the end of the day, I like to play tennis to unwind, then grab a drink as the sun goes down.
Q: How do you relax?
A: Since I travel so much, there's nothing better than heading home to spend time with my family and friends. I love to go kite surfing with my son Sam and my nephews, play a game of tennis with friends or sail around the islands. These are all good ways to unwind.
Q: How do you spoil yourself? Do you have any guilty pleasures?
A: I enjoy the occasional bar of chocolate or one of my wife Joan's amazing fried egg sandwiches!
Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to BransonQuestions@Entrepreneur.com. Please include your name and country in your question.
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