An open letter to Virgin employees

To all the Virgin family,

For 50 years I have been humbled by the incredible pride our people take in working for Virgin. It is the people across all our businesses, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have worked with us over the years, that make this company so special. They tell their families, their friends, and even complete strangers in the pub why Virgin is such a special business. Over the last month much has been said about me and our brand. I know how much you all care about your work, your companies, and most of all each other, so I thought it was important for you all to know the actual facts.

Virgin Atlantic wings

Over the five decades I have been in business, this is the most challenging time we have ever faced. It is hard to find the words to convey what a devastating impact this pandemic continues to have on so many communities, businesses and people around the world. From a business perspective, the damage to many is unprecedented and the length of the disruption remains worryingly unknown.

Together with our Virgin company teams, I am working day and night to look after our people and protect as many jobs as possible. We are operating in many of the hardest hit sectors, including aviation, leisure, hotels and cruises, and we have more than 70,000 people in 35 countries working in Virgin companies. We’re doing all we can to keep those businesses afloat and I am so thankful to all of you who have continued to work so hard in these difficult times. We have already committed a quarter of a billion dollars to help our businesses and protect jobs, and will continue to invest all we can. 

I’ve seen lots of comments about my net worth – but that is calculated on the value of Virgin businesses around the world before this crisis, not sitting as cash in a bank account ready to withdraw. Over the years significant profits have never been taken out of the Virgin Group, instead they have been reinvested in building businesses that create value and opportunities. The challenge right now is that there is no money coming in and lots going out.

My passion has always been creating businesses that improve people’s lives and over the years we have created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Today, the cash we have in the Virgin Group and my personal wealth is being invested across many companies around the world to protect as many jobs as possible, with a big part of that going to Virgin Atlantic.

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Much has been said about Virgin Atlantic employees taking a wage reduction for eight weeks, spread across six and a half months. This was a virtually unanimous decision made by Virgin Atlantic employees and their unions who collectively chose to do this to save as many jobs as possible – it was not forced upon them by management. I am so proud of the Virgin Atlantic teams who continue to deliver critical medical cargo flights to the UK, and the many Virgin Atlantic people who are currently volunteering with the NHS. Their spirit is so heart-warming and inspiring, and I couldn’t be prouder of our amazing people (it deserves saying twice!) I am also deeply moved by the thousands of messages of support from our incredible people at Virgin Atlantic and around the Virgin family. They mean so much to me – thank you all.

Together with the team at Virgin Atlantic, we will do everything we can to keep the airline going – but we will need government support to achieve that in the face of the severe uncertainty surrounding travel today and not knowing how long the planes will be grounded for. This would be in the form of a commercial loan – it wouldn’t be free money and the airline would pay it back (as easyJet will do for the £600m loan the government recently gave them). The reality of this unprecedented crisis is that many airlines around the world need government support and many have already received it. Without it there won’t be any competition left and hundreds of thousands more jobs will be lost, along with critical connectivity and huge economic value. Virgin Atlantic started with one plane 36 years ago. Over those years it has created real competition for British Airways, which must remain fierce for the benefit of our wonderful customers and the public at large.

Image from the Branson family

The same is true in Australia, where the brilliant Virgin Australia team is fighting to survive and need support to get through this catastrophic global crisis. We are hopeful that Virgin Australia can emerge stronger than ever, as a more sustainable, financially viable airline. If Virgin Australia disappears, Qantas would effectively have a monopoly of the Australian skies. We all know what that would lead to.

Image from Virgin Australia

At this time of crisis, we also have thousands of brave frontline employees working for Virgin Care as part of the NHS under extremely challenging circumstances. First and foremost, I want to thank you all for your dedication and resilience. It is humbling to see all the incredible work you are doing providing much needed NHS services, in particular those of you who are helping and giving dignity to people with severe COVID-19 cases. We have invested more than £75m to date into the NHS and have never made a profit. If Virgin Care ever does make a profit, we have committed to reinvest 100 per cent of that back into the NHS.

Much has been written about Virgin Care’s dispute with a commission over a contract a number of years ago. Some will say it was unwise for Virgin Care to do this, but the most important thing is that Virgin Care was never intending to profit from it and 100 per cent of the money awarded went straight back into the NHS.

Virgin Money Giving, our non-profit fundraising platform, has also received criticism for the fees they took when processing a donation to charity. Virgin Money Giving never makes a profit and never will. Virgin Money Giving was founded in 2009 when Virgin Money began sponsoring the London Marathon. At the time, one player dominated the online fundraising industry. In a sector where the entire purpose is to make the most of the money raised for good causes, it operated with a for-profit business model. Virgin Money wanted to disrupt this market by providing a not-for-profit alternative that challenged the status quo. Virgin Money Giving was able to offer the same service with just a two per cent fee (to cover overhead costs, which Virgin Money are now generously stepping in to cover completely for all charities). Virgin Money Giving has supported more than 1.3 million fundraisers, raising over £800 million for good causes – all without making any profit whatsoever. Tens of millions more have gone directly to good causes due to people donating through Virgin Money Giving rather than for-profit platforms.

virgin money giving statement

There have been comments about my home. Joan and I did not leave Britain for tax reasons but for our love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island, which I bought when I was 29 years old, as an uninhabited island on the edges of the BVI. Over time, we built our family home here. The rest of the island is run as a business, which employs 175 people. As with other Virgin assets, our team will raise as much money against the island as possible to save as many jobs as possible around the Group.

I have been honoured to work with all of you over the last five decades building companies and creating competition and choice for consumers across a whole range of industries. Our companies have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and paid hundreds of millions in tax around the world (and will continue to do so). Our companies based in the UK pay tax in the UK, and so forth.

As you know, creating positive social and environmental impact has always been at the heart of this brand. Starting some 50 years ago with Student Magazine, the non-profits Student Advisory Centre, Mates Condoms and so many other wonderful initiatives that the Virgin family have created over the years. The majority of my time is now spent on philanthropic efforts with Virgin Unite, our non-profit foundation that so many of you have helped to build over the past 15 years. I cover all of its overheads, ensuring 100 per cent of all donations received go directly to where it is needed most, from health to human rights to tackling the climate crisis. In addition, 100 per cent of all the money I make from speaking engagements, plus further donations made from Virgin Group, goes directly to Virgin Unite. This amounts to many millions per year, and I will continue to raise and donate as much as possible for charity in the years to come. 

Image from Virgin Galactic

In the midst of this crisis, our Virgin companies are continuing to do what we do best: support each other, support our communities, and tackle tough problems through hard work and innovation. For instance, the Virgin Orbit team and partners have designed and developed new mass producible ventilators, while Virgin Galactic and partners have designed and developed oxygen hoods, and Virgin Unite has donated millions to support community health workers on the ground in Africa. 

Virgin Orbit Ventilator

Another huge thank you to all of the other key workers across the Group who are working on the frontline to help serve our communities and support their teams – you are all heroes. As always I am incredibly proud of the spirit, the innovation and the dedication of all of you in our Virgin family around the world, including those I haven’t already mentioned. To the people at Virgin Active, Virgin Balloon Flights, Virgin Bet, Virgin Books, Virgin Casino, Virgin Connect, Virgin Experience Days, Virgin Fest, Virgin Games, Virgin Holidays, Virgin Hotels, Virgin Hyperloop, Virgin Incentives, Virgin Limited Edition, Virgin Management, Virgin Media, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Money, Virgin Pulse, Virgin Pure, Envision Virgin Racing, Virgin Radio, Virgin Records, Virgin Red, Virgin Sport, Virgin StartUp, Virgin Trains USA, Virgin Voyages and Virgin Wines - thank you.

It really breaks my heart to see the impact this pandemic is having across people’s lives and businesses around the world. When this crisis passes, as it eventually will, the world will be very different to the one we are used to. I know we will come out stronger and kinder to each other as a result. Thanks so much once again to all of you, you continue to inspire me every day. 

Sending you and your family much love in these difficult times.

Richard

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