Richard Branson

Viewing the world with virgin eyes

Kids seldom dream of flapping a Fortune 500 cape as they mock human flight leaping from front porches, but if businessmen were superheroes they would likely be corporate iconoclast Richard Branson. “I don’t think of work as work and play as play,” he’s said. “It’s all living.” The visionary within first sprang forth in 1969. Maiden venture Virgin Records, a discount mail order business, began purely as a funding scheme for his youth culture publication The Student, ironically started after dropping out of high school. Following the path of anti-conventionalism, giant conglomerate Virgin Group now holds majority stake in some 224 companies, ranging from cellular communications, clothing and cosmetics to a record label and airline. His unique business model, which is bottom-heavy rather than high-level exec saturated, may be the recipe for his unparalleled success. Still, Virgin Group has always been intended as a means for funding new innovative ideas rather than simply turning a profit.

Priding himself on playing by his own rules, Branson challenged industries taking consumers hostage with price gouging. By offering music at a discounted rate, Virgin Records began a reactionary movement leading to large scale discounting of recorded music. Eventually growing into a record store, a studio, and later one of the world’s largest labels, Virgin Records is responsible for breaking groups like the Sex Pistols (which other labels were reluctant to sign), multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield, the Culture Club and Daft Punk.

Famed for making records, what many may not know of is Branson’s love for breaking records. He holds the world record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in a water vessel and was the first to do it in the world’s largest hot air balloon. But let nothing overshadow Branson as global humanitarian activist. It was he, along with Peter Gabriel, who approached Nelson Mandela with the idea of forming a coalition whose mission would be to find peaceful resolutions to long-standing international conflicts. The “Global Elders” group was formed, chaired by Desmond Tutu, and graced with not only Mandela, but members like Li Zhaoxing and Jimmy Carter as well. Dubbed a “transformational leader,” Branson ceaselessly re-envisions a bettered world. Take his Virgin Green Fund venture, for instance, dedicated to the exploration and implementation of alternative fuel sources, or his Virgin Earth Challenge, offering $25 million to the group or individual that demonstrates a commercially viable design that will reduce greenhouse gases each year for the next ten years without environmentally harmful effects.

A self-proclaimed student of the university of life, Branson epitomizes the ideal of what an ambitious entrepreneurial non-conformist can only dream of becoming—a true-to-life renaissance man whose every vision’s made real. Defined not by personal wealth, but by the boundless way in which he lives his life, Branson defines the modern-day hero. Superman’s got nothin’ on this guy.

– Kristofer Ilao

Reading by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Richard Branson

1. Very independent in thought. Doesn’t mind being advised what to do, but intensely dislikes being told what to think.

2. Money is not among their deep interests, considering it practically useful, but not wildly interesting in its own sake.

3. Though they do not insult or injure easily, there’s a bit of a temper here, set off by the empathic perception of injury to others.

4. Not particularly fond of abstract intellectual scholarly pursuits. Their intelligence is geared toward understanding how things work and devising practical ways to transform and expand them.

5. Simply acts according to their desires.  Fame is not the goal, but rather doing exactly what it is they want to do.

6. A very direct communicator. Poor at delivering or translating subtleties and innuendoes.