Richard Branson’s Latest Venture

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Virgin’s founder talks about why fellow entrepreneurs are uniquely suited to help fight problems such as poverty, AIDS, and climate change. The Entrepreneur: Sir Richard Branson, 57

Background: At 16, British-born Branson launched his first business: a magazine called Student. He then established a mail-order record business that turned into a chain of music shops and eventually became the Virgin Megastores.

The Company: Since his first venture, Branson’s Virgin Group has grown to include some 200 companies, including airlines and mobile phones, with an estimated $20 billion in revenue. On Aug. 8, Branson plans to launch Virgin America, a stateside domestic air service.

Making a Difference: The very essence of an entrepreneur; competitive, flamboyant, and always ready to take a risk, Branson was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England in 1999 for his “services to entrepreneurship.” Now he is hoping to help spearhead a movement to use entrepreneurship to alleviate a number of global problems.

Last week, business leaders celebrated record highs on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising nearly 300 points (see, 7/20/07, “Dow 14,000”). While consumption and profits are growing, far less enviable statistics are also escalating: A staggering half the planet lives on less than $2 per day. Some one billion people lack access to clean water. In Africa alone, 40 billion working hours are lost each year to time spent carrying water long distances. A quarter of a billion people live in overcrowded urban squatter settlements without adequate shelter. And, tragically, 16,000 people die every day from preventable, treatable diseases like AIDS, TB, and malaria.

Every time I travel to Africa, I am impressed by the tremendous entrepreneurial spirit of its people. But I am also saddened by the destructiveness of poverty and health crises like AIDS. It’s not unusual in a place like South Africa to see hundreds of signs for funeral services in townships and rural areas in the place of the signs for small businesses that were once a symbol of hope for a future free from poverty.

There are many efforts underway aimed at solving these global issues. But we must do more, and I believe that as entrepreneurs we have a unique role to play. Having spent the last 30 years launching businesses in everything from music to airlines, financial services to health clubs, telecommunications to commercial space travel, I’m a firm believer in the power of entrepreneurship to transform the global marketplace. As entrepreneurs, we are trained to spot possibilities where others see only obstacles and to never mind the bollocks driven by bureaucracy and red tape.

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Source: Business Week (link opens in a new window)