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'I Enjoy Life Too Much': Sir Richard Branson Has an Adventurous Approach to Business — But He Never Planned on Being an Entrepreneur Following the release of his new audiobook, "Losing and Finding My Virginity," Branson sat down with Entrepreneur to discuss his life's work in business and philanthropy.

By Emily Rella Edited by Melissa Malamut

Jeremy Cohen
Richard Branson hangs out at the Virgin Hotel in NYC.

Sir Richard Branson has to fly to Brazil in an hour.

But before flying out on this sunny May afternoon, we are having tea at the swanky, new Virgin Hotels New York in Manhattan's NoMad neighborhood talking about the recent release of the audiobook version of his memoir, "Finding and Losing My Virginity," and his plans for when he lands in South America — none of which include slowing down.

"I enjoy life too much," Branson, 73, tells Entrepreneur. "I want to live a long life and only go when the time is ready for me, when the stars are welcoming or whatever."

Once he hits the ground, he'll meet with the Planetary Guardians, a 14-person non-profit coalition of scientists and leaders working to discuss and monitor the 10 biggest planetary concerns in the world. Then, he'll meet with the Elders, a group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela working towards global issues surrounding peace, justice, human rights, and sustainability.

For Branson, enjoying life also means working hard. The billionaire, worth roughly $2.6 billion, per Bloomberg, founded the Virgin Group in 1970 and remains its owner, overseeing over 45 businesses under the Virgin name. Despite the busy days, Branson spent over 40 hours literally sweating in his basement — he wasn't permitted to put the air conditioning or fan on as it would disrupt the sound — recording the audiobook.

"It was fun," he recalls. "Going down memory lane, and remembering stories of many years ago that I'd forgotten."

Branson is already a pro at sharing his life wisdom on social media, imparting advice to his followers on everything from why he makes business decisions to his opinions on worldly matters. He boasts 12.3 million followers on friend Elon Musk's platform X and about 5 million on Instagram.

The irony is that for Branson, making complicated decisions is not a complicated process.

"I think we should all write books for our children and grandchildren," he said. "I was thinking very much of future generations. If you've had a life where you've learned a lot, you should share that learning with other younger entrepreneurs."

Here's how Branson grew his businesses to be worth billions and why he puts his passion for philanthropy at the forefront of his life — all while embracing the journey as one great adventure.

Think global, start local

In 1970, the Vietnam War was making headlines globally, and Branson was a 15-year-old student attending the Stowe School in Buckinghamshire "bored" with what he was being taught inside the classroom. A curious yet "dyslexic thinker" with a quintessential teenage rebellious streak, Branson decided to drop out of school and put his efforts elsewhere.

Then he founded "Student," a magazine created to unite his peers and give youth a voice.

Related: Richard Branson: Create Something Special, Money Will Follow

"I was hopeless with conventional schoolwork, but I was fascinated with what was going on in the world," he says. "What I wanted to be was an editor — I had no interest in being an entrepreneur, but in order to be an editor, I had to fight to keep the magazine going. I had to worry about distribution, advertising, and sales. So I sort of had a sort of crash course at becoming an entrepreneur without really knowing I was becoming an entrepreneur."

That's when he learned an important lesson he would carry with him through his career — pay attention to what people are interested in and switch gears when needed, even if you're not versed or experienced in whatever that interest might be.

A (Virgin) star is born

As the magazine developed, Branson noticed that his peers were showing an interest in music, but his surroundings lacked a selection of local music stores. This created the perfect opportunity.

"We started a little mail-order company called Virgin and started selling records that we liked — Frank Zappa, hip hip records, rock and roll records — and people loved it," he recalls.

Branson said the recording of his audiobook, being surrounded by mattresses and pillows, reminded him of this first shop.

"Then there was a postal strike and we opened up this music store above a shoe shop on Oxford Street with pillows on the floor," he adds. "People would come in, smoke a joint, and listen to 'Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd with headphones on, just sitting on the floor. We had a queue nearly half a mile long on the first day of people trying to get into the store."

via Jeremy Cohen

Screw it, let's do it

The Virgin founder has adopted a "screw it, let's do it" (it's even his X bio) mentality when it comes to embarking on a new Virgin endeavor or investing in a business.

"I'm a great believer in just trying things in a small way, putting a toe in the water...we'll try things, and then if it looks like we've misjudged, we'll quietly move on to something different," Branson says. "But if it looks like it's worth putting more fuel on the target, we'll keep it going."

Branson cites Virgin Health Clubs (there are over 230 locations in the world) and his airline, Virgin Atlantic, in its early stages, as examples of when he jumped in head first and saw success.

"People will come to me with an idea, and I'll just say, 'Let's try it.' Let's build one health club, and if it works, we'll build a second one," he explained. "With Virgin Atlantic, we just started with just one 747 plane."

Related: Richard Branson: 'Delegation' Is Crucial for Any Entrepreneur

"Life's a lot more fun if you try things," he adds. "And in business, I think too many people are just scared of trying in case they fail."

Cruise control

Branson says that one idea that initially showed promise but seemed to be a difficult journey in an oversaturated market was starting a cruise line.

"There's no point in going into starting a cruise company just to be like any other cruise company," Branson says of the company, which won the Travel Weekly award for 2024 Best Premium Cruise Company and six of the top awards in the 2023 Cruise Critic awards.

Virgin Voyages was created in 2014 and the company's first sail aboard the Scarlet Lady ship was in 2021, after delays due to pandemic-related health concerns with the crew and staff.

"We'll be small for quite some time," he says. "If you go on a Virgin Voyages cruise ship, you've got 82 different nationalities on board with 1200 staff members on each ship, wonderful spirits of people. And every single little detail, the team has gotten right."

Branson says that sometimes starting (and staying) small is better for business.

"You have to ask yourself whether by setting up this company you're going to make a difference in people's lives and whether you're going to enjoy doing it and whether it's worth you spending your time and energy on," he says. "If generally, all those things come out as positives, then screw it, just get on and do it."

Some ideas will take you out of this world

Some people are content to accept the mystery of space for what it is without poking around up in the stars out of curiosity. And then there's Richard Branson.

"I think the conventional advice I got when I was young was 'Stick with your onions,'" Branson says. "But I like carrots and Brussels sprouts and spinach and a slice of apple pie with ice cream as well."

Never one to stick to his onions, Branson flew to space in July 2021 on Virgin Galactic's first fully crewed spaceflight to see what all the fuss was about.

"It was the most extraordinary day of my life, and I've been lucky enough to have a lot of extraordinary days" he recalls of his voyage. "We're now going to spend the next couple of years developing the Virgin Galactic Delta spaceships."

Branson says the company is focusing on building spaceships to bring the price of space tourism down and enable more people to fly.

"We're not going to see a lot of Virgin flights over the next few months, but the team is going to be beavering away to building new spaceships, which is very exciting," he says.

Branson on AI and intelligent life on Earth

While space tourism and exploration may be out of reach for many, it's not the only rapidly advancing technology raising concerns among top business leaders.

In February, Branson signed a letter with the Elders calling for government regulation on AI technology.

Related: Richard Branson: Elon Musk Surprised Me Barefoot In My Home

"I think as far as regulation is concerned, and I'm not even sure it's realistic," Branson says. "It would be really good to get the nations together to try to work out what areas need to be checked on — it's difficult for one country to bring in checks without other countries joining in so I think it does need to be a global thing."

The Virgin founder has also championed the untapped potential that the technology can hold for helping other dyslexic thinkers, despite his wanting to develop a system to keep the technology in check.

"I'm more excited than worried about AI," he says. "I think it's going to transform people's healthcare, it's going to transform operations, it's going to transform many, many aspects of life."

"Having said that, I think it's still important that the people still get the human touch," he adds.

The keys to Virgin Group's success

Branson says that he invests in people first and leaders should, too.

"A business is simply a group of people, and it's that group of people that make the difference," he says. "The quality of the leader is critical, and their quality of dealing with their teams is critical. [Making] sure that they genuinely care about people is critical. The ability to listen to other people and not just to themselves is critical. Personalities are very important, rather than exam results."

Branson, of course, is the face of the Virgin Group brand and is known for taking risks and being a strong personality in and out of the office. Similarly, Virgin Group companies are characterized as having a people-first approach with an innovative, disruptive vibe.

via Jeremy Cohen

"I think your reputation is all you've got, so as an individual, your reputation is everything, and the same applies to a brand, the reputation of the brand is everything," he says.

"So you've got to zealously live a life that you can look in the mirror and be proud of living, and then you've got to protect the brand and make sure that the brand values are adhered to by everybody," he adds.

Emily Rella

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior News Writer

Emily Rella is a Senior News Writer at Previously, she was an editor at Verizon Media. Her coverage spans features, business, lifestyle, tech, entertainment, and lifestyle. She is a 2015 graduate of Boston College and a Ridgefield, CT native. Find her on Twitter at @EmilyKRella.

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