Sir Richard Branson had a message for the young people of the Cayman Islands: Follow your dreams.
Speaking to the students attending the “Breakfast with Branson” event at Camana Bay on Friday 2 November, the billionaire told the children to choose a career path that matched their passions.
“The best advice I can give anybody is to follow your dreams,” he said. “Try to do in life what interests you most. Don’t go down the path of ‘I can make a lot of money if I do this kind of job’.”
Mr. Branson said he didn’t think of himself as a businessman and he said young entrepreneurs would be better off not thinking about new ventures as a business, but as a way of making other people’s lives better or happier.
“If you can come up with an idea that will make a difference to other people’s lives, that is the business,” he said.
Although he wasn’t very good in school, partially because he’s dyslexic, Mr. Branson said he was always interested in what was going on in the world. He was very much against the Vietnam War, so he left school and started a magazine to campaign against the war.
“I wasn’t really thinking ‘let’s create a business’ but ‘let’s create a magazine that can make a difference’,” he said.
The head of the Virgin brand empire said part of being an entrepreneur was being prepared to fail.
“To be a true entrepreneur, I think you’re going to fall flat on your face on many occasions,” he said. “If you fail, pick yourself up and try again until you succeed.” Mr. Branson said that just by trying to do something, an entrepreneur will learn much. Although he tries to learn from all of his mistakes, he noted that when he’s had failures along the way, he doesn’t dwell on them.
Mr. Branson gave another bit of advice to the would-be entrepreneurs.
“If you’re going to run your own company, I would encourage you to as soon as possible learn the art of delegation,” he said.
Delegating responsibility as a key to entrepreneurial success was a point Mr. Branson reiterated later that day at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, where he appeared as one of the keynote speakers during the second day of the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit.
“Too many people who run [businesses] want to hold onto everything themselves,” he said, referring to company owners micromanaging their operations. “Their family life suffers and so does their business.”
The afternoon session with Mr. Branson was moderated by Ritz-Carlton developer and former owner Mike Ryan, who commented that some of Mr. Branson’s business ideas over the years seemed “counter-intuitive”.
Mr. Branson admitted that “everybody needs a bit of good luck along the way”, but he said that he was inquisitive by nature and liked to look at things in different ways.
“As I’ve gone through life, I’ve come across areas where I thought I could do it better,” he said, adding that being counter-intuitive can make sense sometimes.
Although the Virgin brand is huge in its scope, Mr. Branson said the company has tried to keep the individual units small.
“We try to stay small whilst we’re getting big,” he said, adding that when businesses get too big, they can become impersonal.
Both in the morning and afternoon sessions, he stressed the need to create a good working environment and a place where people like working.
He told the story about when Virgin bought a part of British Rail and created Virgin Trains, how he invited all 20,000 the employees that would join him and their families to his house for a big party. So not to make the employees of his other companies jealous, he invited all of them and their families as well.
In total, over a seven-day period he said he hosted about 80,000 people for a party, the likes of which most of them had never experienced. Doing that for the employees went a long way in changing the British Rail civil service mentality to one of acceptance of its privatisation, he said.
Mr. Branson spoke about his efforts to develop clean fuels that wouldn’t eat into the world’s food supply and of simultaneous efforts to remove carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere, a process for which he’s offered a $25 million prize to the scientist who creates it.
On a more controversial note, Mr. Branson said he thought a global carbon tax was needed on every industry to reverse the threats from global warming.
If such a tax were imposed, he thought that “very quickly the world will move from dirty fuels to clean fuels”.
Mr. Branson also spoke about his role on the Global Commission on Drug Policy with former political and cultural leaders.
“We spent the last two years looking at the war on drugs,” he said, noting that the consumption of drugs has increased every year since United States President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971. At the same time, drugs have put hundreds of thousands of people in prison, have caused the execution of some people in certain countries, caused the spread of the HIV virus and ruined people’s lives in other ways.
When looking at alternatives to the war on drugs, the commission saw that in Portugal and Spain, where drug use was decriminalised a little more than a decade ago, there has been a large decrease in new HIV cases and in crimes associated with drug use, he said, adding that Germany and Switzerland were now both adopting similar laws.
Mr. Branson also spoke about his marine conservation efforts and the Ocean Elders organisation of which he’s a part.
“Why would people come to the Cayman Islands? I think half the reason is the beautiful seas and the life in them,” he said, praising Cayman for having the foresight for doing things such as establishing marine parks and catch seasons for certain marine food species.