““When I made the film The Invention of Lying, they gave me a private jet for getting back and forth between New York and London. I thought, ‘I will never use it’ but I ended up using it every weekend. You turn up, right, and the airport is completely empty. I mean, there’s just someone at the desk and then the pilot, who says, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and you say, ‘Don’t you want to see my passport?’ and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I suppose I’d better.’” ”
Sir Richard Branson is the only person we’ve put on our cover twice, and I can’t think of a better choice for that distinction. In 2008, when we first featured him, a poll in Britain had just named him No. 2 on a list of people parents would want their children to look up to, second only to “a family member” and ahead of both Jesus Christ and Nelson Mandela. Some would quibble about the order of this list, but few would disagree that Sir Richard deserves a high ranking. It’s hard to not be inspired by him.
In April 2008, the economy was headed full-speed toward meltdown and Sir Richard was starting Virgin Charter, a company that didn’t work out. No matter. This is an entrepreneur who takes failures in stride, bounces back quickly and considers no challenge too big to tackle. As he told Margie Goldsmith in a wide-ranging interview conducted on his own Caribbean island (page 16): “We try things, and if it doesn’t work out, we cut our losses quite quickly. I don’t look backwards. I move on.”
He certainly does. Sir Richard’s latest preoccupations include Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space line, and assorted charitable efforts aimed at protecting the Earth’s environment and improving life for its inhabitants. This is not a man who will ever be accused of thinking small.
There is something captivating about his sort of entrepreneurial spirit, and it’s not surprising that Sir Richard has many admirers in the world of business aviation, which has long attracted leaders with innovative ideas and a willingness to challenge the status quo.
I am fortunate to have interviewed many of these leaders for the BJT Management Series. Some of them offered comments that seemed redolent of Sir Richard. PlaneSense CEO George Antoniadis, for example, said, “If you have an idea you believe in, you have to pony up and do it.” Others, such as Piaggio America president and CEO John Bingham, directly credited the Virgin entrepreneur with inspiring them. “Sir Richard Branson is someone I admire hugely,” Bingham told me. “When everyone said to him, ‘You can’t do it,’ he said, ‘I’m going to try.’”