Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, sat down Wednesday at Dreamforce 2012 for a fireside chat with Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com.
The topics discussed ranged from Branson's well-known, dare-devilish adventures, exploration and human settlements on Mars to social computing, rock and roll and celebrities, and a theme dear to Benioff, using information technology to produce positive social change in the world.
One idea embraced by Branson is to identify young entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas and "instead of sending them off to college, set them up for business," he said.
Branson started his own business, Virgin Records, in his early twenties, motivated mainly by his drive to get things done. Frustrated that certain artists, like the Rolling Stones, couldn't get signed by a record label, he created his own. “Come on nobody would sign the Rolling Stones. Often the only way to get things done is to start your own business and get things moving." In the end, Branson did sign on the Rolling Stones.
He also said that "the question to ask yourself when starting a business is, ‘How will your business impact people's lives? Without that [an impact], it's not worth it.'"
The Virgin empire
Virgin Group is comprised of multiple ventures and without a doubt is a reflection of Branson's personality.
"I did not go to university and my interests are wide." Branson told the audience.
Benioff elaborating on this idea asked Branson, "Diversity is a big mantra of yours but how on earth do you manage all of it?"
"The trick" said Branson, "is to delegate, delegate and delegate and do not second-guess your people." In other words, don't do it all.
Going back to what appears to be this year's theme for the conference "Business is Social,” when asked by Benioff about his leadership philosophy, Branson said,
"I look for the best in people. A company is made of people and you can never forget that. I love people, I love spending time with people and I love to listen to people and in my 45 years as an entrepreneur, I've learned that sharing ideas with others is most important. And today's social technology facilitates that process. Using social media key to successfully spread your ideas."
The chat touched upon a topic dear to Branson: the decriminalization of drugs.
Putting his money where his mouth is, Branson is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and hopes to make some changes. “It’s a health issue and not a criminal one. And in America, it's a racist issue. 80% of people who end up in jail for drugs are minorities."
Then the topic moved to environmental issues. Branson believes that the solution to environmental and social problems is a convergence of strong business leadership and governments working closely together to implement renewable resources and best practices.
Branson's Virgin Pure is a system that filters water straight from the plumbing system to provide consumers with chilled or boiling water at the touch of a button, eliminating a great amount of water plastic bottles. The water system has been implemented in all Virgin's hotels.
On the topic of core values, Branson’s include respect for individuals, family, and – not surprisingly -- having fun in and out of work.
Benioff concluded the fireside chat by asking the visionary, "where do you see yourself in the next decades? "
Branson replied, "Very fortunate to be with the same lady for 25 years. We're still in love. Wonderful children. Over the next 10 years, we, the whole family, hope to really make a difference and to help solve environmental problems, the global warming issue, setting up a Center for Disease Control in Africa, and of course, we'll be having fun with our space program, Galactic Virgin. I believe we will be the company that will colonize Mars."
How's that for a vision of the future.
A business leader worth following, for sure.
(On a side note: Bambi Francisco, founder of Vator, named her fourth son Branson, after Richard Branson).