Listening to Richard Branson

On my way home from work today I listened to a very interesting interview with Richard Branson. The interview was a podcast from the TED conference of March 2007. Branson is raconteur with a self-depreciating manner that belies the talents and skills that have made him a very successful businessman (and a multi-billionaire).

His talk is inspirational and covers learning, education, exploration, business and social responsibility, (something that he calls capitalist philanthropy). Branson is open about dyslexia that forced him to leave school at the age of 15. His teacher at the time said that he would be either be a millionaire or in jail when he grew up. He talks about loving to learn and having an insatiable curiosity about things. He can learn only about things that interest him- if it does not, well forget it. This problem has not prevented him from succeeding in business. He identified one of his most important practices is to hire people who know more than him and let them do their thing- his job is to inspire, guide and learn. He has learned to learn with his dyslexia and knows when to ask and how to ask. He says that there are still some continuing problems caused by his condition such as that despite the fact that he runs several multi-national corporations, he is still confused about the difference between “gross” and “net” incomes (he does tell about how one of his lawyers has used a visual metaphor to help him to remember the difference).

Branson also discusses how his mother wanted to insure that her children would grow up to be self-reliant, such as when he was 5 years old, she would drop him off in the middle of a field several miles from their home and let him find his way by himself. He says that he believes that children need to be coddled, showered with love and encouraged.

Another idea that he brings up is capitalist philanthropy, which seems very similar to the idea of social capitalism that is promoted by the magazine Fast Company. This idea is that successful people need to be successful by treating people and the planet right. He states that in essence the world is small and that a person’s most valuable asset is their reputation. This means that the best road to success is to be honest and treat partners, collaborators and employees with respect and dignity. Karma. And with great success comes great responsibility to give back to society and the planet.

The interview is 30 minutes long and is worth the listen.

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