My response to the global crisis

Richard Branson looking into the distance at dusk, with a city outline behind him
Owen Billcliffe
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 21 March 2020

This is the most significant crisis the world has experienced in my lifetime. I usually think out loud and often share my every thought, but the scale and breadth of serious issues affecting our people and our businesses this week have meant this is the first chance I have had to put my thoughts down on paper.

Millions of people and thousands of businesses are being severely impacted by the ongoing pandemic. There are more than 70,000 people across 35 countries who work in Virgin companies, all of whom have been deeply affected by the pandemic in different ways. Because many of our businesses are in industries like travel, leisure and wellness, they are in a massive battle to survive and save jobs. Our airlines have had to ground almost all their planes; our cruise line has had to postpone its launch; our health clubs and hotels have had to close their doors and all bookings to our holiday company have stopped.

We are supporting our people and our businesses in their fight for survival in numerous ways. We are providing a quarter of billion dollars over the next weeks and months to protect them and save jobs - that is likely just the start. The chances of securing widespread economic recovery will depend critically upon governments around the world successfully mobilising various newly announced support programmes, which in these unique circumstances will be essential to protect people’s livelihoods. We are also listening to our team members around the world to see what other things we can do to support them, their families and communities and will be rolling out a series of programmes over the coming months.

I remember the days and weeks after 9/11, when all airlines and travel companies took extremely painful decisions to make redundancies in order to keep businesses afloat and the dramatic impact it had on people then. We are doing all we can to stop that happening now. At Virgin Atlantic, we consulted with and listened to our incredible employees, who virtually unanimously decided they would collectively volunteer to take unpaid leave for eight weeks out of the next six and a half months, in order to limit financial hardship for everyone, secure the airline’s future survival and try to protect everybody’s jobs. Our employees are united as one behind this plan, and our shareholders and partners have respected their vision, so we can hopefully emerge and thrive with as many jobs as possible intact once the situation stabilises. 

Our people have and, will always be, my number one priority. It is their future job security and their wellbeing that I am 100 per cent focusing on, in these frightening and unprecedented times. We’ve prided ourselves on looking after those working for Virgin for the past 50 years; we’ve always put our employees first and always will. I am an optimist. I believe in the power of dedicated people working together to overcome challenges. And I believe that the Virgin family, working with communities around the world, will get through this toughest of times.

I want to end with a huge thank you to everyone working on the frontlines of this crisis - from the key workers putting their lives at risk to help others, to the scientists working 24 hours a day to find a vaccine. All of you are true heroes.