Richard Branson's Secrets to Success

January 7, 2013

If Richard Branson lost it all, what would he do to come back? How does he define success? And what role did luck play in getting him to the top of the business world?

LinkedIn members recently got a chance to pose their questions to the thrill-seeking billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group. He sat down with us following his latest (though less adrenaline-fueled) achievement: becoming the first LinkedIn Influencer to cross the 1-million-follower mark. He achieved this less than two months after LinkedIn launched the Influencer program, which allows a select group of thought leaders — men and women driving the business conversation around the world — to write on LinkedIn and have what they're sharing be followed by any of our 187 million members. You can find the full list and read the latest posts on our People To Follow page.

But back to Branson. His posts have been wildly well received, generating more than 26,000 comments and over 2.4 million views. He's covered everything from what defines happiness to why you should buy your business a present. In the video above he tackles new ground, including why he believes lawmakers should force companies to have boards where 50% of the directors are women.

Congratulations to the members who got their questions answered. Here's who they were and what they wanted to know:

  1. Terry Price: Lots of successful entrepreneurs like to promote books on their success strategy, but most savvy people know any success is down to luck. What would Richard say are the luckiest points of his career?
  2. Dawn Clayton: Do you believe that women lead differently than men? Why and is it better for society in general?
  3. Cheryl Ayres: If you lost it all what would you do first to recover?
  4. Sugata Sanyal How can I help you improve the world, without bothering you and your schedule? I am 63 and not looking for a job. But I would like my twilight years to be more meaningful: to me, to my family, to the society around.

Feel free to leave follow-up questions in the comments in my original post and we'll ask Richard to answer the questions in future posts.


Edited transcript:

What role does luck play?

You do need lucky breaks to be successful. I've had enormous amounts of luck. In my personal life, I've done foolish things like fly around the world in balloons or trying to break transatlantic boating records. I've been pulled out the sea 5 times by helicopters.

In business, there have been many moments. When we launched Virgin Atlantic, people thought we were completely mad to go from having a record company to going into the airline business. My bank thought I was absolutely mad. When we arrived back from our inaugural flight, the bank manager was sitting on my doorstep saying they were going to foreclose on the entire Virgin little empire.

Do women lead differently then men?

In the end, it's down to individuals. I would encourage companies to work really hard towards getting a 50/50 split of women on their board — even to the extent of encouraging politicians to actually change laws to force a situation to where there's 50% women on boards. Because in countries where they've done it — like Norway and Sweden — the companies seem to have benefited from it. But in the meantime, all of us who own companies must try to increase the size of our boards to make sure we get more women on the boards.

If you lost it all how would you come back?

You have to define what success is. I've spent a lifetime creating things that hopefully I think can make a difference to other people's lives. I've genuinely never set about to think of myself as a businessman. If I lost it at all I'm sure I'd want to carry on creating. Most of my time is now spent creating not-for-profit ventures like The Elders or Carbon War Room or Center for Disease Control or trying to protect species. That's where I get my main satisfaction from. And somehow, even if I didn't have any money, I'd continue to do that.

How can someone who is at the end of his career and is looking to give back help?

It's a fantastic offer. When we set up the The Elders, which is headed up by Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the idea was to go into conflict regions and try to resolve conflicts. And they've done some stellar work. And in time what we also want to do is set up Elders on a local basis. It's such a waste of people my age and other elders who have retired not to have the satisfaction of getting out there and making a difference in the world. And maybe he could actually get in touch with us and we could experiment with him by doing something locally in his area. And if it works there, maybe we could spread it out around the world.