This simple mindset helps me, Virgin Group succeed

This simple mindset helps me, Virgin Group succeed
This simple mindset helps me, Virgin Group succeed

“I don’t ever think of myself as a businessperson, or even really an entrepreneur,” Branson tells CNBC Make It. “I just see myself as someone that loves to create things that I can be proud of.”

A sole focus on making money would likely have prevented him from jumping into new industries with risky ventures throughout his career, he says — like launching airline Virgin Atlantic in 1984 when his past experience was in the music business, or starting Virgin Galactic and traveling to space on one of his own rockets.

“There’s many things that we’ve done that we wouldn’t have done if we’d listened to accountants,” says Branson.

Success shouldn’t be defined as how much money you make, Branson says: Rather, it’s about being proud of the work you do and helping make “a difference in other people’s lives.” Perhaps ironically, the strategy has proven lucrative for Branson, whose current net worth is estimated at $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Branson isn’t the only leader who sees himself as a creator, framing his successes and failures in terms of the impact they have on others. Frank Hasenfratz, the late billionaire founder of auto parts manufacturer Linamar, who died in 2022, told CNBC as much about himself in 2019:

“I’ve got all the money in the world, but I’m still working,” said Hasenfratz. “Money, of course, is a motivator. But to build something that lasts for a long time is the most gratifying achievement.”

Of course, turning a profit is essential to keeping a business afloat — but potential profits shouldn’t be the deciding factor that inspires you to launch a new venture or make a big decision, Branson advises.

In Branson’s case, he knew launching Virgin Atlantic “was very risky,” he says: He’d never owned an airline before, and he was entering a highly competitive industry led by larger, established rivals. But those competitors were lacking quality amenities and customer service, and he believed he could build a better alternative, he adds.

Virgin Atlantic is still in business four decades later, despite emerging from bankruptcy proceedings in 2021. It posted a record annual revenue of roughly $3.8 billion last year.

Branson’s bet on aerospace has been more challenging so far. Virgin Galactic trimmed staff and temporarily suspended commercial flights at the end of 2023, after posting a loss of more than $500 million last year.

“If I was a pure businessman, then I would never have decided to go into space,” Branson says.

Rather, he says, his decision to create something new is “based on [this] instinct: ‘If I create this can it be better than what everyone else is doing? Can it make a real difference in the world? Can it be something that we can all be very proud of?'”

“If it covers those basic criteria, then we’ll give it a go and either fall flat on our face — if our instinct was wrong — or if our instinct was right, we can then grow it,” says Branson.

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