He brought glamour to the business of air travel. Having made his millions, literally, Sir Richard Branson is now focussing his ample energies on philanthropy.
“Most of my time these days is spent in setting up not-for-profit ventures and not in setting up new businesses. There are lots of problems in the world and that’s what I enjoy spending my time on now,” Branson said, answering questions from a set of budding entrepreneurs at a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday where The Hindu was present. He is involved with conflict resolution, global warming…. subjects that are normally not associated with either him or Virgin.
And yes, he has managed to marry philanthropy with his sense of adventure. Under construction is a submarine that will explore the deepest trenches, where else but in the Atlantic, to start with.
The pursuit: to study marine life at depths of 38,000 feet where no man has gone before. “I am an oceanic elder. What these people do is protect the species in the oceans because there is an enormous danger that some of these species are going to disappear. I realised that only two people have been below the ocean at 20,000 feet and the oceans go down to 38,000 feet. There’s a lot to explore down there and I thought it would be fun to give it a go,” he says.
What’s his advice to those starting off in business? “Business is coming up with an idea that will make a positive difference to other people’s lives. If you feel you have such an idea, just get on and do it. Find really great people who can work with you on it and make sure that they 100 per cent believe in what you are trying to do,” he says.
Branson is passionate about making space travel affordable to the average salaried person predicting that in 15 years’ time, hundreds of thousands of people would have had the chance to become astronauts.
Virgin is building a spaceship that will be ready next year and has already sold 550 tickets. “If anybody wants to get rid of mother-in-laws, we can give a one-way ticket!” he winks.
Ask him how it felt to sell off Virgin Records to support the airline business and he’s candid: “Selling a company is not easy because you are selling people and if it’s your first business you are particularly attached to it.
Having just told the staff that we’ll have to sell the record company in order to protect the airline, I was running down the street with tears streaming down my face and hoping nobody was watching.”
Branson’s meeting with the entrepreneurs will be aired in the Young Turks programme of television channel, CNBC-TV18, at 11 a.m. today with a repeat at 7.30 p.m.