Sir Richard Branson Inspires NFTS Students at Masterclass


Sir Richard Branson Inspires NFTS Students at Masterclass

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"The lesson is to keep going until you get the lucky break, and then pile in there!" – Sir Richard Branson

In a sparkling encounter that ran for over an hour, legendary entrepreneur and Virgin Founder Sir Richard Branson took questions and cracked jokes with scores of students from the NFTS in a transatlantic Q+A hosted by the school’s outgoing Director Nik Powell (assisted by head of Producing and head of Creative Business for Entrepreneurs and Executives, Chris Auty).

Speaking from Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands to students in the NFTS cinema on Wednesday, Branson offered practical support to some students and networking opportunities to others, whilst taking questions and sharing business and personal lessons reaching back to his days as a schoolboy. 

He personally complimented Nik Powell, his one-time business partner, on his remarkable achievements at the school, in a warm exchange.

Branson, who sold his cherished Virgin Records company for almost $1bn in the early ’90s in order to save his then-struggling Virgin Atlantic airline business, talked about personal and business lessons, old and new, that included:

Saying yes or no.
I always prefer to say yes to something new and exciting, even though I know it may not succeed… In fact one of my lessons is that failures and challenges can still be good for the brand — they can reinforce its quality and value. That’s certainly true in the UK — though perhaps less so in the USA…

Filmmaking and business
We made a classic film in 1984 — the film of Orwell’s classic novel ‘1984’. It was the same year as the start up of Virgin Atlantic. The film went THREE times over budget and we ended up in a very public wrangle with director [NFTS alumnus] Mike Radford. I wanted to include a music track from the Eurythmics — simply to save our investment — and it caused a fuss. We got there in the end.  But that over-run on costs nearly killed the whole Virgin business at a critical moment….

There are many, many more investors out there looking for new businesses today than when Nik and I started up. That’s all I can say.

Name and Brand
Imagine: I originally wanted to call Virgin ‘Slipped Disc Records’ . That could have been our brand. I’m not sure it would have worked for the airline business! 

Social issues and personal conscience
I’ve always been involved in social issues and I still am today: whether it’s about the death penalty or the treatment of drug addiction rather than its punishment….

Over 40 years ago, through my sister, I was asked to buy the London night-club HEAVEN, as someone who could pledge to keep it gay forever. I have always been vocal on gay rights. I did it. We finally handed it over in a management buy-out to the staff last year, at their request.

To-Do lists
I have always had them. Today they just tend to be a bit bigger. Top of list today: ‘how to fix rocket to top of jumbo jet for launch’..

When I was a kid at school I’d look at a blackboard and go blank. I ended up leaving school at 15. But it made me stronger:  it also made me a better delegator. I simplify everything. There can be no jargon. We have a rule in-house: if Richard understands it, anyone can.

Some sectors are not just competitive: the companies already there — Air B ’n’ B, Coke, Google — have VERY deep pockets. So if you are going up against them you'd better have something very UNIQUE and very CLEAR!

They come in many shapes and sizes and for different reasons. British Airways had an American partner and could have killed us. 
So we ended up in a terrific partnership with Delta. Who would have guessed?

Personal journey to success
We made the best of our lucky breaks. The lesson is to keep going UNTIL you get the lucky break, and then PILE IN there!!!!!

A company is just a group of people. Planes are planes. Look at what has happened on the transatlantic route in the last 20 years: most of the airlines have gone out of business. But we are still there. When we started I hoped that the spirit would still be there in the business 20 years later. It is, and we are still there. It’s all about people.

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