Sir Richard Branson: On A Mission To Mentor

05.04.2011 | Category: Interviews, Uncategorized

I sit in amazement when I continuously receive the same response from authors I approach to be included in MOTIVATED.  It’s generally a variation on the same four words: “I-would-be-honoured”.  They understand I’ve measured my intention to inspire the world to rise to their fullest potential and they feel grateful to be included in this higher purpose.  I know full well that it’s the collective vibration of this intention that shifts the perspective of my readers; many times it serves as the catalyst for change and growth.  And this is why I do what I do.

There are literally hundreds of stories behind how an article makes it to the pages of MOTIVATED. Consider the magical manner in which Bruce Poon Tip, Founder and President of GAP Adventures, embraced the challenge to write his very first article. Never having agreed to write for a publication before, he was astounded to realize that once he put pen to paper, he couldn’t stop the words from pouring out! Reflect on the serendipitous timing of inviting Olympic champion Silken Laumann to write for MOTIVATED at the very moment that she had resolved to find an outlet for sharing the full spectrum of who she is with the world. Recall the remarkable sense of community depicted in Sergeant Rob Cullen’s story in our Winter 2010 issue. That story echoed throughout our own MOTIVATED community, moving Don Cherry (our Winter 2009 cover) to include never-before seen footage of Rob’s father playing hockey in the Remembrance Day program of Hockey Night In Canada. All this brings us to the story behind Sir Richard Branson.

I’ve always believed that I’m about three people away from the person I want to meet.  And so when I decided that I’d love to interview Sir Richard Branson, I began asking well, pretty much everyone I knew, if they knew someone who knew him!

I never get hung up on the timing of things; everything unfolds in the manner it’s meant to.  A couple of months after I voiced this desire out loud, I got a phone call from MOTIVATED contributor Richard St. John asking if I had heard of Brad LeBlanc, a 21-year-old dynamo epitomizing tenacity.  LeBlanc called Branson’s office every day for three months until they finally agreed to pass his email request to Branson directly.  His dream was to have him speak at The Atlantic Dream Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick in October 2010.  Branson agreed.

Well, it took me about a millisecond to call Brad to see if he could arrange five minutes with Branson so that I could tell him about MOTIVATED.  After six weeks of my own tenacious phone messages, Brad not only agreed to help me connect, he asked me to speak at the same event.  When I arrived for the private ‘Breakfast with Branson’ event, I was moved to tears when I was escorted to the head table and seated beside him.

Brad opened the door, I walked through.

Over breakfast, Branson agreed to an interview and to grace our next cover.  When I asked him what he is most passionate about, what he fundamentally believes has the transformative power to change the world as we know it, he answered, “mentorship”.  And so the theme of this issue was set by him.

What follows is my interview. It is my sincerest wish that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the process of bringing it to you.

One note:  I found Richard’s response to what scares him – “to feel nothing” – profound.  One of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time is afraid of not feeling; of not being able to respond with emotion to all that life offers.  This, and the love and gratitude he feels for the mentorship offered by his parents, is nothing short of beautiful.

Enjoy, and remember to allow things in life to unfold exactly as they should.  I did, and Sir Richard Branson is on the cover of this issue because of that allowing.

What values and beliefs did your parents pass on to you that you still follow today?

My parents are extremely kind, thoughtful, and loving people.  They believe you should treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.   My mum taught me never to be afraid of failure – it’s just a learning curve.  My wonderful dad taught me to listen and to value other people’s advice and opinions.

Do you have a personal mission statement?

Have fun in your journey through life and learn from your mistakes.

In business, know how to be a good leader and always try to bring out the best in people. It’s very simple:  listen to them, trust in them, believe in them, respect them and let them have a go!

When did your spirit of adventure manifest?

My adventurous nature was nurtured by my mother and my Aunt Clare. From a very young age, my siblings and I were encouraged to push the boundaries and explore the local countryside surrounding our family home.  I remember driving home with mum on a sunny afternoon; a few miles from the house mum opened the car door, handed me a packed lunch and announced that I should walk home and have an adventure on the way!  I followed those instructions (I didn’t have much choice!) and though a little frightened, after a few hours I did indeed manage to find my way home and have a few adventures on the way!

What have you been afraid of?  How did you overcome it?

Over the years, I have had my share of hairy moments!  I have crashed a few balloons into freezing oceans, sailed across a ferocious Atlantic and almost lost the business a couple of times.   In all of these situations I’ve experienced fear, but I’ve never been afraid of attempting them in the first place!

Face fear head on and give it a go and, importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you fail – just pick yourself about, learn as much as you can from the experience, and get on with the next challenge.  Or you can cower away from anything that makes you nervous or uncomfortable and never experience anything in life because you’ve been too afraid to try something new.

Is there anything that scares you now?

To feel nothing would be my greatest fear in life.

How do you define mentorship?

I think being a mentor is incredibly inspiring and rewarding, especially when I visit countries such as South Africa and witness first hand the passion and drive the young entrepreneurs have.  Starting your own business can be challenging and the support of experienced entrepreneurs is a key ingredient to help build and grow a successful business. Sharing experiences and ideas is also a key requirement of being a good mentor.  Also, be prepared to learn as much as
you teach!

Who has served as mentors in your life?

My parents have been my lifetime mentors – I thank them dearly for that.

My mentor in the early days of Virgin was the legendary aviation entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker.  He once told me, “Richard, never forget that only a fool never changes his mind.” Not wanting to be foolish, I took his good advice!

Recognizing their profound value, have you implemented mentorship programs in your businesses, ?

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship is a nest for aspiring entrepreneurs. Our mission is to offer access to coaches, practical business skills, guidance, as well as mentors to share their experiences and financing opportunities to enable growth.

Why do you believe mentorship could solve some major world issues?

There are a lot of amazing people in the world and it is important that we have people who are experienced and trusted advisers to listen to and follow their lead and advice.  The Elders are just such a group.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

The advice from Sir Freddie Laker!

How would you describe your relationship to money?

My relationship with money is not to make it my first priority.  I pursue what I am passionate about whether that makes money or not! My fascination is learning and discovery more than the bottom line.

I’m not saying that making money is not important, we need our businesses to be successful! 50,000 people work for Virgin around the world and they deserve to be secure in the knowledge that the bottom line is healthy!

Where do you feel most at peace?

Necker Island, my home, it’s a very peaceful and tranquil place.  I love nothing more than relaxing in my hammock overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea – the best office in the world!

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever witnessed?

The most beautiful and incredible thing was to witness the birth of my beautiful daughter Holly; it is a feeling you really can’t explain.

Unfortunately I missed the birth of my son Sam as I was sailing across the Atlantic on the Virgin Atlantic Challenger in 1984 – I just remember hearing my assistant Penni shouting over the radio that Joan had given birth to a healthy baby boy – so I guess you can say that was the most beautiful thing that I have ever heard!

What brings you the greatest joy?

My work has always involved huge amounts of travel so being able to spend quality time with my family and friends probably brings me the greatest sense of joy.  I love spending time with my beautiful wife and my two children and their friends. Christmas and holidays are great as the entire family gets together and shares the festivities. Nothing beats spending time with the people I love.

What one truth do you believe could fundamentally change the world as we know it?

We need to learn and always remember that our actions today will dictate the type of world our children and grandchildren grow old in.  It is our greatest responsibility.

Comments

  1. What an incredible experience to be able to meet Richard Branson. You are a wonderful Journalist to be able to get him to open up and show his true self. Congratulations.

  2. Guru Eduardo says:

    A very good interview that reveals the real Branson. This guy is one of my heros. I’ll never forget hearing him say in an interview, “if it’s not fun, we don’t do it”.

    I just discovered your magazine! Again, well done, I like it a lot.

  3. Ms. Voisin,
    Sorry it took my so long to comment on your amazing interview but after I read it, I got busy planning my baby brother’s takeover of my Annual Lemonade Stand and my first Teen Lemon-Stock event to Fix Kids’ Hearts and Save Souls (supporting Sick Kids’ locally, Save a Child’s Heart worldwide and Soles for Souls too). I used the lessons that I learned from reading your interview with Sir Richard Branson to help me work harder and to push myself a little further . You asked very relevant questions that really got Sir Branson to think about what is important to him in life and he then shared them with us. Your questions and his thoughtful answers motivated me to work harder and push myself a little harder with both events even when so many people told me that planning a second event only 1 month from the first was not going to be possible and that it was sure to be a failure. Your article confirmed my belief that anything is possible when you try hard enough. I teach everyone that you are never too little to make a big difference in this world (I’m 13 and I’ve been helping people since I was little) and if I had given up on creating my 2nd event for older kids, I would have failed myself and my belief in me. I know people have fun at the lemonade stand and I’ve raised $160,000 but I wanted to show teens that they can get involved in other events for good causes and still have fun doing it to. Your article gave me the courage to move forward and I planned not to fail but if I did, I could just learn from it for next year. Sir Branson’s advice about mentorship is so great because although I tell everyone that young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but we are leaders today, I realize that the older generations were already leaders and still are today and they have experience on their side to help us make smaller mistakes as long as we listen and trust them. Congratulations on working hard to get what you wanted and I hope to be lucky enough to meet and speak to Sir Branson one day soon – maybe you can both come to next year’s Lemonade Stand and Lemon-Stock to fix kids’ hearts that are broken.
    You can check out my website by googling Amanda lemonade if you want to :)

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