I’ve launched so many businesses in so many sectors and I’m often asked how I turn my hand to so many different things. The truth is, for most of the time, I’ve learned as I went along - but I’ve learned this is often my greatest asset. It’s really important to realise that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know – because you can always find out. Seize opportunities and don’t give in to self-doubt.
I surround myself with good people that I trust and who have expert knowledge and I empower them to make solid decisions.
A great example of this was when Virgin Records signed Mike Oldfield. Mike lived above his mother and he had a tough life. Upstairs he played every single instrument you could think of – and many you can’t - and he put together a tape that was to become Tubular Bells. He was down at The Manor one day and he played the tape to one of his engineers, who rang me up excitedly and said I had to hear it. I loved it straight away – the problem was, we didn’t have a record company.
I told Mike to come over and talk, and I said let me try and find a record deal for you. I approached six different companies but they wouldn’t sign him – it was quite a unique sound like nothing they’d heard before, and therefore it was a risk. But it was a beautiful haunting tape that moved all of us and we felt the record should see the light of day and couldn’t understand why no one would put it out.
I said screw it, let’s start a record company and put it out ourselves. If we hadn’t heard the tape we never would have started a label. It was an odd situation; we had our first artist but I had no idea how to run a record company and had to learn really fast. If I did have experience in music – like all those others who turned it down – I probably wouldn’t have gone ahead. My lack of knowledge and experience was a huge benefit. Fast forward a few decades, and Virgin was the biggest independent record label in the world, and now Virgin is a global brand.
As time has gone on, I’ve got bolder and bolder. We grew from Student magazine, to a mail order company to launching an airline. The dreams just keep getting bigger and bigger, from Virgin Galactic to Virgin Hyperloop One to Virgin Voyages. I love learning every day, and can’t wait to keep asking questions and discovering the answers.