Who is your hero?
Richard Branson. Sorry: Sir Richard Branson. He shakes up industries, he makes them more efficient. You can smell his brand on everything he does. He brings the concept of the small business – the agility, the dynamism – and translates it to big businesses. If, as the government argues, the way out of economic difficulty is small businesses, he is the blueprint for how to do it. If the government actually saw through its desire to cut through red tape, if they actually did it, not just talked about it, you’d have more Richard Bransons, and more small scale ones too. Which has got to be a good thing.
What has he taught you?
Diversify – but make sure that you stick to what you believe your key messages are. Virgin has diversifed into hundreds of areas, but the values are the same. Virgin always considers the customer. A lot of times in life, someone decides what you want and then insists you put you up with it. No.
How do you think he would get on doing your job?
Well, he’d be really good at it! But he might struggle with the four children.
Do you think he could learn anything from you?
No – although you can never stop learning. But he clearly already knows that anyway.
What was it about him as a person that has made him achieve the things he has?
I don’t know him so this is only my perception, but I met his son once who was utterly charming and who works in the business. He seems to be a family man, just a normal bloke. A lot of wildly successful people either go mad or are sort of weird. But I can imagine Branson on the Tube, or going to Pizza Express. I bet he doesn’t only drink pink Veuve Clicquot at home. Supermarket own-brand wine wouldn’t be out of place. But then that’s only my perception. I think I connect more with him because there’s a bit of him that gets a buzz from the business itself, rather than just the end result – the money. He builds businesses he would love to use himself.
Many hugely successful people seem very keen to say, “Oh if I can do it, so can anyone”. Could anyone achieve what Sir Richard has?
No, they couldn’t. I don’t agree with that. Some people are fortunate enough to have parents or someone else who teaches you to believe in yourself. Self-confidence is key. Not everyone gets it. I think everybody gets opportunities in life, and everyone gets luck, but some are better at taking it than others.