Sir Richard Branson once said, “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” While we agree with that statement wholeheartedly, we also think there’s opportunity — and then there’s OPPORTUNITY: like the chance to meet Sir Richard himself in the Cayman Islands. Yes, that was one ride we weren’t about to pass up…
We’ve long admired the über cool Richard Branson – from the way he looks at the world, to the many ways he’s changed it. So the invitation by friends to attend an intimate dinner with Sir Richard in their private Grand Cayman residence was by far the best email we’ve received this year. And the evening would be made even more special as our designing friends, Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan, would be coming along too – pinch us! This was going to be FUN. (Read about Colin and Justin’s experience of meeting the rebel billionaire here in the Toronto Star). We soon learned that Sir Richard would be visiting the island as a keynote speaker at a financial conference, but was taking some time out to raise funds on behalf of Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group.
Virgin Unite’s mission is to connect people and entrepreneurial resources to create change on tough social and environmental issues. What’s more, 100% of the donations received go directly to the causes themselves. Did we mention the tagline for the charity is “Screw Business As Usual”? Very Richard. Up for grabs at the silent auction were items including: swimming with whale sharks off Isla Mujeres, a visit to Necker Island with Sir Richard himself, and even the chance to pitch your business idea to Richard and hip hop mogul, Russell Simmons. We were thrilled to support Unite and won the “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” Sotheby’s auction catalogues, personally signed and sketched upon by controversial YBA artist, Damien Hirst (we’ve since learned there are likely less than 10 of these in circulation containing a signature and Hirst drawings).
Following dinner, guests spilled out onto the patio and we soon found ourselves having a one-on-one with the man himself. Warm, soft-spoken and incredibly genuine, Sir Richard was everything we thought he would be – and then some. Yes the man has CHARISMA in spades. But he also comes off as very down to earth and approachable. He was a wonderful listener – he really, truly listens to you – that’s a skill he’s no doubt found helpful in business. You could say we’re quite well-read on the man and were prepared with plenty of questions. So much so, he stopped the conversation at one point exclaiming, “I love it! You know more about me than I do!” Here are a few snippets from our chat:
On being successful in business: I never start a company with the sole goal of making money. I always ask myself, how can I make a difference and how can I help people?
On what’s important in life: Everything can be replaced. Except your family.
On being an entrepreneur: I learned early on that you have to delegate. You can’t do it all or you’ll burn out. And you need to spend time with your family. You need balance.
On the fire at Necker where his mother was rescued by none other than Kate Winslet: My mum kept saying, ‘What’s all the fuss?’, and I told her, ‘Mum, you’re starring in your very own blockbuster with Kate Winslet. Enjoy the fuss.’
On whether it’s really him behind his Twitter account: Of course! I write all my own tweets but I will admit to once in awhile needing to ask my staff for help on the more technical stuff.
On whether he would bring back his TV show, Rebel Billionaire (which we LOVED btw and was far, FAR superior to The Apprentice): I doubt it. We like to try new things. Did you hear we’re going to space? (he said with a grin)
On his PR stunts: I love doing the unexpected. You may as well make it fun, and I like to have fun.
Speaking of fun…that’s when the night really began. We asked for a photo and he obliged, but in his own unique way of course! Here’s just a FEW of the resulting pics…taken by Colin (Mr. Always-There-At-The-Right-Time), who just kept snapping away as Richard played to the camera.
Check out this tumblr account “Richard Branson Picking Up Women”. Yes, you could say he’s developed a bit of a habit.
We came away from the evening with plenty to reflect on – how we can be better at business and better citizens of the world. Richard Branson gives you much to ponder and inspires you to think bigger, think smarter and think fun. And we think his magic rubbed off just a little…
Branson says “Screw Business As Usual”. Do you do business a little differently than ‘usual’? Tell us how below…