Richard Branson and Warren Buffett are two different personalities with different types of business methods, temperaments and attitudes. Both have made huge contributions to business in their countries.
Buffett’s adherence to value investing and his insistence on responsible corporate governance have been an example to companies throughout the western world. He has stood up for full disclosure in the financial statements and spoken out for fair accounting practices on issues such as goodwill and accounting for stock options. The business results of Berkshire Hathaway Inc speak for themselves.
Richard Branson is an environmentalist, humanitarian, adventurer, world record breaker and business champion. He is more than just a businessman with some extreme hobbies – his exploits are all linked, and his business achievements cannot be viewed in isolation from his record breaking feats and galactic aspirations.
A common theme in all his activities are risk-taking and reaching for the dream. He steps out of line and reaches for the stars. He aims to be a world beater in his personal and business life. Richard Branson has followed the roller coaster from hero to zero and back again, never pausing for breath.
His life so far has been an illustration of that one huge lesson that British people need to learn – that one failure is not the end, that failure is a learning experience, that when you fall flat on your face you can stand up stronger.
His Virgin group of companies has been involved in music, air travel, railways, mobile phones, internet, finance, drinks, hotels and fitness. He has been consulted by governments and knighted for his services to entrepreneurship. He has known business setbacks and has overcome them. His enterprises have created employment, boosted exports and have inspired young people to pursue their business interests as entrepreneurs.
The space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, was launched in 2004. The company will develop space tourism by licensing technology relating to the famous Spaceship One. This forward and upward looking enterprise will provide sub-orbital spaceflights to tourists and facilities for scientific missions. The latest vehicle, Spaceship Two, can fly to a height of 110 km which is beyond the official boundary of space. A test flight of Spaceship Two – named VSS Enterprise – took place with successful testing of instruments in July 2010. On this flight the vehicle remained attached to the mother ship but it was a step on the way to the first solo flight.
In his life as an adventurer, Branson completed a record crossing of the Atlantic in Virgin Atlantic Challenger II in 1986, following a well publicised failure in the previous year. His other records include the first crossing of the Atlantic in a hot air balloon in 1987 and the fastest crossing of the Channel in an amphibious vehicle, achieved in 2004. His attempts to go around the world in a hot air balloon in 2005 and 2006 did not succeed but go down as a glorious failure.
Richard Branson’s initiatives extend beyond the borders of his own country. In 2005 he helped to set up the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa, supporting start-up businesses with skills and finance. Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of the Virgin group of companies, grapples with problems such as healthcare in rural Africa.
His efforts for the environment include setting up the Virgin Earth Challenge in 2001. This global science and technology prize will award $25 million to the individual or team that can produce a design to achieve a net reduction in the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, without any corresponding harmful effects.
“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, it has to exercise your creative instincts”.
This quote from Richard Branson sums up the attitude that the UK needs to have towards doing business. The country needs to escape from the idea that running a business is something to be regarded with suspicion and that a business failure is a reason for shame. With Branson’s help, Britain can enter a new business era.
The UK requires more entrepreneurs, a different attitude to risk-taking and a more positive business culture. Branson has contributed to changing the business culture of the UK and has inspired a generation to pursue their dreams through their business and to always think of the environment and the community.
“The Essays of Warren Buffett”, edited by Lawrence A. Cunningham, Wiley, 3rd edition 2009
Virgin Galactic website www.virgingalactic.com