Richard Branson on why competing is fun
- By Greg Rose -
- Dec 05, 2011
Competing is fun! This is one of the points Richard Branson explains in this interview with Brazil's EXAME. In an exclusive interview on a recent visit to South America, Richard Branson reveals his love of Brazil and why Virgin wants to “enter markets where companies are somewhat top-heavy, somewhat comfortable with the status quo”. Roberta Paduan asks the questions:
EX: Virgin operates in 30 countries, but Brazil is not among them. Are you going take a closer look at the business opportunities down here?
RB: Yes. I think Brazil has a fantastic future. It has the potential to surpass the US as one of the richest countries in the world. It’s got enough population, is a good democracy, people here have access to a higher quality education, but, of course, there is still a long way to go.
EX: Rumours say that Virgin will start operating in the Brazilian mobile phone market next year. Is this true?
RB: We have just created a holding company to operate in the Latin American region. We signed an agreement for the first business in Chile, which is due to start next year. We are looking at three other markets, and Brazil is one of them. But we have not made a final decision yet.
EX: What does Virgin have to offer that is different and can help you gain a space in this already highly competitive market?
RB: We have some experience in entering new markets. We have expanded to the United States, Australia, South Africa and France. We have a fun brand. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We love to enter markets where companies are somewhat top-heavy, somewhat comfortable with the status quo, and are used to charging consumers high rates.
EX: What other businesses is Virgin considering moving into down here in Brazil?
RB: We keep our eyes open to all industries, like the hotel industry. We have no immediate plans to enter the airline business, and David Neeleman (owner of Azul airline) was a bit more agile than we were.
EX: When you began your career, what did you expect or hope for?
RB: I started my career when I was 16 years old. I didn’t think I was starting a business. I just wanted to create a magazine. I had never thought of myself as a businessman. I just wanted to create something special. The first stage was survival. I did not make a lot of money. I made just enough money to keep the magazine going. One day someone gave me a cassette tape, and loved that tape. I showed it to a number of people, and no one wanted to record it. So I set up an audio record business, and it was successful. My other business ventures were born out of the same logic.
EX: At present, how much time do you spend on your business?
RB: I devote most of my time to activities like The Elders, but I make it a point to take care of things that are important to Virgin, like hiring its key executives. I interviewed Josh Bayliss, the Group’s CEO, in the back seat of my car while waiting in a traffic jam that lasted almost two hours. Now, he makes money so I can spend it. Learning to delegate is vital in business. You have to be willing to let people do good things and let make them mistakes.
E: How do you react when people make mistakes?
RB: I think that criticising people is counter-productive. A good leader is someone who praises a person for his or her best efforts, not someone who criticises. People know when they make mistakes. Of course, sometimes I just can’t resist and end up saying something, but never more than once. The secret of success is finding good people.
E: Have you fired many people in your career?
RB: I am not good at that. A company is like a family. You can’t fire your brother or sister just because they have made a mistake. Of course, we fire people, but, in general, we try to find jobs where they fit better.
E: Who do you admire in the business world?
RB: I admired Steve Jobs, although he was completely different from me. He used to shout at employees that made mistakes. He did not delegate much, and broke all the rules I believe in. Somehow it worked for him. Apple is one the best brands in the world. The person that I respect most in the world is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He and Nelson Mandela came to power in South Africa, and forgave white people for the atrocities they had committed during the apartheid era. That was a great lesson on how to forgive our enemies and move on.
E: How did you get involved in environmental and human rights issues?
RB: That was early in my career. I grew up in the sixties, when people were taking to the streets to protest against the war in Vietnam, for instance. During my teenage years I used to go to this place for youngsters with all kinds of problems. I learned a lot there. After I had reached a certain level of wealth and became known globally, I decided to use my position to make a difference.
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