This is the first book in my pass at reading the entire Virgin series by Richard Branson. Essentially that just means reading every book he has written. Losing My Virginity is essentially just an autobiography which means it is a lot different from most of the books I have read recently. However, after seeing a lot of Branson’s posts online and following him on social media for the past few months, I wanted to find out more about him. I mean, he spends most of his time on his own tropical island so can’t be doing too much wrong.
I can definitely say I learned a lot I did not know about Branson from this book. It opens with Branson waking up in Marrakech, because of course a book about Richard Branson would open that way. From then on it is story after story of the tale that is his life. One thing that really hit home was how much parenting likely played into his success. His parents put him in a lot of situations where he needed to figure things out for himself, which is likely responsible for all his, “of course I can do that” attitude.
He was a very poor student but something about him still made people notice. His headmaster in school told Branson he thought he would either wind up in prison or be a millionaire. Interesting how close the line can be between those two. Starting with Virgin Records, he slowly built the Virgin Group one company at a time. Though they were always moving forward, the big moment actually didn’t come until 1993 with the sale of Virgin Music. Prior to that, almost all expansions had been debt financed and now he had cash on hand. This is what led to the Richard Branson that I am more familiar with in my life of essentially just saying yes to everything and give it a go.
Purposefully Over Extend Yourself
The primary take away I have from the book is how important it is to be willing to stretch yourself because it is the ultimate way to force yourself to figure things out. A big break for Virgin was the purchase of a large estate in the English countryside to use as a recording studio. Branson didn’t have the money at the time he agreed to purchase the place but he found it. The same is also true for his well known Necker Island, which he amazingly enough purchased for $180,000. An important point about that deal was the fact that in the agreement to purchase the island, he agreed to develop it within 5 years. That was going to take a great deal more money than $180,000 but it put him in a situation where he had 5 years to come up with a solution. So he did.
Though you want to extend yourself, you also want to have an exit strategy. Branson always makes sure to protect his downside or potential loses. When he decided to open up Virgin Atlantic, he leased the 747 from Boeing with a clause which allowed him to return the aircraft and get out of the contract after just one year if things didn’t work out. Virgin would still be out a lot of money if the venture failed, but nothing that would bankrupt the group.
The desire to extend himself is also one reason why Branson kept the Virgin Group as numerous separate companies, so problems in one didn’t have to affect the others. In good times, the top performers could support the ones having problems. But if things got particularly bad, they could always cut one area lose without it affecting the other businesses.
Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That has always been my philosophy of business.
Ultimately we had two options; either tuck away a little money and eke out a living without taking any more risks, or use our last few pounds to try to sign up another band that could break us back into the big time.
If there should be a hint that I’m doing it for personal glory, then I won’t be able t do it at all.
Live for the present and the future will look after itself.
Ultimately this book was exciting and a lot of fun to read. One other important note to share is how moving the passage is where Branson talks about the child that he lost early in his life. It is a short section but he talks about it very openly and beautifully. His willingness to be vulnerable in that way is probably one of the biggest reasons for the success throughout his life.