Sir Richard Branson: Purpose, responsibility and leadership personified

“An entrepreneur is someone who makes a positive difference in someone’s life.” Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire may span dozens of companies and hundreds of initiatives, yet the need to improve lives is central to every decision he makes. His parents taught him to look for the best in people. Marry this to his “Screw it, let’s do it” attitude to life, and you have a potent force for good.

When Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands at the beginning of September in 2017, the humanitarian crisis that was to unfold across the Caribbean was starkly reflected in the destruction of his home. “We expected a bit of a horror story, but we weren’t prepared for what hit us. As the eye of the storm passed overhead, we popped our head outside. It was like a nuclear bomb had gone off.”

“We have a responsibility to come up with positive ideas for how the Caribbean can rebuild. We have an opportunity to put clean energy and good infrastructure in place. In terms of the economy, most of the income from these Islands is from tourism. As entrepreneurs, we need to ask ourselves how can we bring tourists back to the country,” Branson told the audience at the Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki on Monday.

The ability to act on opportunities has seen the Virgin group into wildly different business areas – albeit ones with the central tenet of helping people at their core. To stay on track, Branson highlights the importance placing trust in others has in leadership.

“Don’t be a bad delegator. Find people better than you, give them the freedom to make mistakes and let them get on with it. This frees up entrepreneurs to become serial entrepreneurs. Trump’s version of leadership – and success– is wrong. The individual is critical to making ideas work. People who listen to others will make the most difference in the years to come,” he said.

Which brings us to purpose. From Virgin Galactic to Virgin Unite – Sir Richard wants to bring people together. “My love of space is more about what it can do for people back here on earth. We want to make a difference in everything we do. If I feel we can bring something unique to a particular problem, we will jump in with open arms.”

“Us in the western world have no excuse not to be happy – we have roofs over our heads, a comfortable mattress to lie down on at the end of the day. As entrepreneurs, we have to raise the standard of life for the 3.5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to these basic comforts.”

The desire to create something is powerful. The desire to create happiness is infinitely more so.

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