My week with Richard Branson: Learning at the Foot of the Master
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The only famous person I’ve ever wanted to meet is Sir Richard Branson, the legendary entrepreneur and billionaire. My sister gave me one of his books a couple years ago and ever since I’ve been telling my staff and friends that someday I’m going to meet and hang out with Branson.
So, when invited to spend time on his private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, my answer was “heck yes!” A few weeks later, I was one of 30 entrepreneurs gathered on the island. While our group represented a variety of industries, most of us have a social enterprise aspect to our businesses. Branson spent six hours a day pouring wisdom into us. We also had time to explore the 74-acre island that is home to 72 different animal species threatened by extinction (i.e. giant turtles, lemurs & flamingos). It was an inspiring week for me.
Here are a few things I learned from the man who started his first business at the age of 16.
Business can be more than just making money and creating jobs. We should also ask, “what process can we adopt that will help us make a difference in the world?” Branson told us it’s also important to look at both an environmental and a social profit and loss at the end of the year.
I founded Aerial Development Group as a social enterprise business model to make a positive difference at the local and global level. Each time we sell a home, we sponsor a child at in a Kenyan orphanage for one year in the name of the homeowner. We also support a number of local organizations that help improve our community.
This year, we’re looking at additional ways we can reuse and recycle building materials and make other environmental improvements. We salvaged materials while renovating the historic building where our offices are now located and incorporated some of the wood as fireplace mantels and kitchen islands in our new homes. We’ll be asking how we can continue bringing the past to the future.
Disadvantages can be overcome with creativity and vision. Branson has dyslexia and was a poor student because of it. He was told he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. Many of his businesses were started out of frustration and because people told him something couldn’t be done. He uses creativity and vision to create the change he wants to see the world.
My age and gender might be my disadvantage. I don’t fit the typical CEO mold in the residential and commercial development industry. But Branson doesn’t fit the mold of a typical CEO either. I do have a strong vision that brought us to this place and a true belief that if I continue to count on people who believe in our vision, then it can be accomplished.
Don’t over-analyze. Go with the flow.
This advice actually came from Branson’s wife, Joan, as an explanation of how their marriage has lasted 25 years. It also applies to the challenging times you face in business. Don’t over-analyze to the point of inaction. Strap on your boots. Be a product of your decisions, not your circumstances.
Throughout my week on Necker Island, Branson showed me that business can be fun and that you should look at business as a tool to do what you want. Business can bring influence, relationships and the funds to fuel your passion. Aerial Development Group feeds my passions: revitalizing urban neighborhoods and helping African orphanages become self-sustainable.
How are you fueling your passion?