15 Things We Can Learn from Sir Richard Branson


You can fail and still succeed. In 1995 and 1998, Richard Branson and his team tried to be the first to circle the globe in a hot air balloon. They failed. But the publicity they received on both occasions for the Virgin Brand was priceless. Plus, we have to imagine they had fun, too.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Rich, powerful, world-renowned – certainly someone like Richard Branson is careful to project a poised, professional image at all times, right? Nope. In 1996, Branson shaved his beard and donned a wedding dress and makeup to promote Virgin brides, his new wedding and bridalwear store.

If you’re going to compete with a big name, do something spectacular. In 1998, Branson drove a tank through Times Square and pretended to blow up a Coca-Cola sign to promote his own Virgin Cola. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

Research and planning and pretty darn important. In 2007, Branson celebrated the first Virgin America flight by bungee jumping off a 407 foot tall building. But Branson and his team didn’t take into account that leaping off a building is NOT the same as jumping off a bridge or cliff. Branson crashed into the building twice and could have been seriously hurt or killed. Luckily, he only ripped his pants.

Pay off your losing bets, but still go for the last laugh. In 2013 Branson lost a bet with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes over each company’s Formula 1 racing teams. Branson had to serve as a female fight attendant – complete with skirt, purse, mascara and pantyhose – for AirAsia’s airline. But Branson got the last laugh when he ‘accidentally’ spilled a tray of drinks on Fernandes’ lap.

When in ‘Rome,’ do as the Romans do. To promote Virgin Atlantic’s new routes in South Africa, Branson consulted the cultural center in Johannesburg before authentically dressing as a Zulu warrior and posing with the locals.

Do it in style. In 2004, Branson crossed the English Channel in an amphibious car, wearing a tuxedo. We wonder if he also had vodka martinis on the trip – shaken, not stirred.

Go viral. When Branson did an interview with Stephen Colbert, he splashed the talk show host with water from his mug and Colbert splashed back. The interview dissolved into both men laughing hysterically, and resulted in additional coverage, views and social media shares.

Don’t wait for others – make it happen yourself. While most people might wish Hollywood would cast them in a movie, Branson made his own movie and stared in it. The Casanova Gunslinger is a 20-minute live action movie, created by Virgin Mobile.

Test your idea. To start his new airline, Branson called Boeing and negotiated to rent one plane for a year, to see if his idea was viable.

Get inspiration from others. Branson has frequently cited non-fiction books as his inspiration for everything. For example, from Nelson Mandela Branson learned to let his vision guide him, instead of his fear.

If you’re going to do something, do it right. Virgin Records was burning cash and digging itself into debt. But Branson found a way to illegally avoid paying the 33% purchase tax. Customs eventually caught on to the scheme, and to avoid jail Branson had to pay back three times the amount not paid in taxes. He somehow managed to make the payments, and vowed to never do anything illegal again.

Be willing to do anything for your business. When Virgin announced it had flights to Scotland, Branson arrived at the press conference wearing a kilt and underwear that read, ‘Stiff Competition.’

Your past does not equal your future. Branson did poorly in school, still couldn’t read at the age of 8, and was described as hopeless in math and science. Yet now? He’s one of the richest people on the planet.

Frustration equals opportunity. When his flight to Puerto Rico was canceled, Branson charted a flight and sold seat to his fellow passengers, and Virgin Air was born.