tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg July 28, 2018 1:00pm-1:31pm EDT
david: where did the name virgin come from? richard: one of the girls laughed and said, are you a virgin at business? david: did she get a finder's fee for that idea or not? daivd: now you are a sir, you were knighted. richard: i was slightly nervous it would have been a slice at the head rather than a tap on the shoulder. >> would you fix your tie, please? david: people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but okay. >> [laughter]
david: we'll just leave it this way. you david: i don't consider myself a journalist. nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to take on the life of being an interviewer, even though i have a day job of running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? you have written two books, one is "losing your virginity" and one is "finding your virginity." in those books you describe how you have gone from modest meanings to great wealth. when you started life, you are not a great scholar as a young boy, because you had dyslexia. when did you realize you had dyslexia, and was it a problem for you early on? richard: in conventional schooling terms, it was a problem. i would sit at the back of the
class and look at the blackboard, and it was a jumble. i was thought of as a bit lazy, a bit thick, or a mixture of the two. if i was interested in something, i generally excelled. what i was interested in was what was going on in the world. the vietnamese war was going on. there was a general 1960's uprising of students taking place. i decided to start a magazine to campaign against the things i thought were wrong. david: this was 15 years old? you drop out of school at 15 years old to start the magazine. you get prominent interviews, like some from mick jagger.
richard: in some ways, if you are 15 years old, you have a better chance of getting interviews with people than if you are 30 or 40 or 50. i would just turn up at people's houses. [laughter] because i was young and enthusiastic, they generally took pity on me. david: you decided to start a record company. where did you get that idea from, and where does the name virgin come from? why not branson? richard: [laughter] i was 15 years old, 16 years old -- we were sitting in the basement with a bunch of girls. we were throwing out ideas. we got down to either slipped disc records, or virgin. one of the girls laughed and said, we are all virgins, you are a virgin at business, why don't you call it virgin?
david: did she get a finders fee or not? richard: [laughter] i would be delighted to give her one. it is very fortunate because we have gone into so many sectors. slipped disc airlines -- david: you started a record company, and initially it is a retailer, right? richard: we sold records much cheaper than anyone else had done. there was a mail order strike for six weeks, so we went looking for a very cheap music store on oxford street. david: then you started filling virgin megastore's. you have a lot of stores in the u.k. and other places. how many did you have at one point? richard: we had 300 mega stores
around the world at all the major places, new york times square. at the heyday of when music was trendy, before mobile games and phones. david: was virgin mobile your self-promotion of it, or were you selling things cheaper than other people? richard: virgin was associated with music credibility, so frank zappa, the rolling stones, so we had a credible brand. one day a young artist came to me with a fantastic tape. i took it to a number of record companies, and no one would put it out. i thought, screw that, we will have our own record company, and we put it out on our own record company. he became a great success.
david: so you have a record retail company and production company, both called virgin. someone drew a v for your logo? richard: we decided we needed a hipper logo, and someone came up with this signature. david: you decided you needed to start an airline. where did this idea come from? richard: i was trying to get from puerto rico to the virgin islands. i had a lovely lady waiting for me. david: because you like the name virgin. richard: [laughter] that is true. anyway, american airlines bumped us. i have been away from this lady for three weeks, so i went to the back of the airport, hired a plane, hoped my credit card wouldn't bounce, i wrote it to virgin airlines and i filled up up my first plane.
when we landed, a passenger next to me said you ought to sharpen up your service a bit and you can be in the airline business. i thought, okay, so i rang up bowie, and asked if he had any 747s for sale. british airways launched a dirty tricks campaign against us. they did everything they could to drive us out of business. we took them to court. we won the biggest damages in british history. we redistributed it to all of our staff equally. every year we hope british airways will launch a dirty tricks campaign against us. david: many thought you were the antiestablishment airline.
what is now the big eye, the ferris wheel in london, british airways was supporting it and they could not get the thing to work. you guys rented a blimp? richard: we scrambled the blimp and we flew over -- the only reason we would go into a new sector is if we felt it was being badly run by the people. the reason we went into trains was the government was running trains.
british rail was dilapidated trains, a miserable service. we felt we could motivate the staff, we could make a big difference. so we took over the busiest line in britain, the west coast mainline, and went from 8000 passengers to nearly 40,000 passengers and transformed the experience for people. in every new sector we have gone into, we have seen a gaping gap in the market where the big guys have not been doing it very well, where we can come in and shakeup an industry. david: how many companies have you started with the name virgin? is it around 300? richard: it is in excess of 300 now. [laughter] david: when you start them and they don't work, you end them after a year or so?
none of them have filed for bankruptcy. richard: we are fortunate to never have filed for bankruptcy. if something doesn't work out, we will settle the debts and go to the next one. daivd: now you are a sir, you were knighted. did you ever expect to be in the royalty? richard: we once put out a record called "god save the queen" by the sex pistols. we wondered if she would remember the record, if it would have been a slice at the head rather than a tap on the shoulder. ♪
david: is there something in your life you haven't achieved that he would like to achieve? richard: we have spent 40 years working on a space program. it has been tough. space is tough. it is rocket science. i think we are on the verge of finally fulfilling that dream. before the end of the year, i hope to be sitting in a virgin spaceship going to space. david: you have about 2000 people or more that have signed up. are they still ready to go? richard: actually signed up and paid up, about 800. david: what does it cost to pay up? richard: about $250,000. about 50% of the people watching this program would love to go to space. the other 50% think, they are mad, 102 they want to go to space for? the market is gigantic, and we hope to be able to satisfy quite a few of those people. david: do you think you can make a profit in the end, or is it a love of doing this? richard: i never go into a
venture with the idea of making a profit. if you can create the best in its field, generally you will find you pay the bills and make a profit. david: it is not like a rocket goes off -- you have an airplane, attached to it is another airplane, and a separate one goes into her space. richard: the one that drops fires it rocket. in 10 seconds you will be traveling at 3000 miles per hour into space. the whole experience would be something like three hours. david: would you be on the first flight? richard: i will be on the first official flight. we have very brave astronauts, effectively test pilots, who are testing the craft time and time again, finding out anything that
can go wrong before myself and members of the public go up. david: i am sure it will be safe, but one time when you did hot air ballooning, you are not sure you would survive. richard: i was doing something nobody had done before. i was trying to fly across the atlantic, or go around the world in a balloon. i was flying at 40,000 feet in the jet stream with one other person. you know, the technology was completely unproven. we were the test pilots. things could go wrong, and they did go wrong. david: you set a number of guinness world records. do you have any regrets? richard: my son and daughter now are setting themselves big adventures every year, dragging
their dad along with them. as a family, we feel like, live life to its full. you can die in a road accident, you can die in a normal bike ride. when you are completely focused on an adventure, it is less likely in some way you are going to die, because you are ready and sharp and know how to deal with it. david: you are well recognized for all of the things you have done around the world, but your hair and your goatee are also well recognized. has it always been this length? richard: i have always been a hippie since i was 15 years old. i have had a beard ever since i
was 15, 16 years old. i shaved it off once when we launched the company called virgin brides. i put my bridal dress on, gave gay people a good laugh. we found out there weren't any virgin brides, so that business did not succeed very long. david: so now you are a sir, you were knighted. richard: we once put out a record called "god save the queen" by the sex pistols, and i find myself 25 years later being knighted. i was slightly nervous she would remember the words on the record, and it would be more of a slice on the head than a tap on the shoulder.
david: this was not done in the tower of london. as i understand, in the late 1970's, there was an opportunity to buy an island, the british virgin islands. richard: they wanted $5 billion for this beautiful island. i thought i could scrape together about 100,000. nobody else fortunately came to see the island. they said if i made it $120,000, they would make it an island. i went everywhere to borrow $120,000, and we ended up with the most beautiful island in the world. david: you have built resorts. richard: it is a home. it is a magical place. we have fantastic get-togethers of people, sometimes conferences
there, where we try to sort out the problems of the world. more people will come on holiday and book the island. david: you met with president barack obama. richard: we had a nice lunch. david: he was a nice houseguest? richard: both of them were delightful. we had a fun competition. anyway, he beat me. they -- yeah, it was a great privilege to spend time with them. david: many times people who become financially successful, they seem to be unhappy for some reason.
david: you have met a lot of great leaders. you have brought them together in something called the elders, people like nelson mandela. you were very close to nelson mandela. richard: i was very lucky. for 10 years we knew each other very well. we set up the elders, 10 incredible men and women who would try to resolve conflicts. conflicts, i think, is the most important thing.
if you have a conflict, everything breaks down. david: what makes great leadership in your view? richard: being a great listener is one of the key things. listening to the elders meetings, you reason one of the reasons they have become elders is because they have spent their life absorbing and choosing their words carefully. i think a genuine love of everybody. looking for the best in people, even if they are being a pain, you can normally find the best in pretty well anybody. david: if you are a business leader -- if someone is watching this and wants to be sir richard
branson, what is the key? richard: surrounding yourself with great people. learning to delegate early on, not trying to do everything yourself. making sure you've got the kind of people that are praising and not criticizing. having people who are willing to really be bold and create something that everyone that works for the company can be proud of. david: where did you meet your wife? richard: the manor, a recording studio we had in the u.k. david: was it love at first sight? richard: it was fo rme. she was making coffee. she was with somebody else.
i am afraid i had to chase her. my nickname became tagalong, because i always asked if i could tagalong when we went to dinner. david: you have two children now. i feel it is important if you can do this while you are alive -- your father died, your mother is still alive. what was it like having your parents see your success? richard: it was wonderful to be able to share it with them. my mom -- my first $200 i got to start my business, my mother took a necklace to the police station and no one claimed it, so she sold it for $200. that was the critical money that helped me start.
it started this wonderful life we were lucky to lead. david: in the philanthropic world, what is something you are most focused on? richard: we are a good of a serial philanthropist in the way we were serial entrepreneurs, in that i have a hard time saying no to products i thought were important. i certainly never dreamed that the dream of my life would have actually happened, and that i would one day be in a position to hopefully make a difference. david: many times people who become financially successful or otherwise well-known seem to be unhappy for some reason. you seem to be very happy, very content.
is that a fair assessment? richard: i think i would be a very sad person if i was not a happy person. i am blessed, have an absolutely lovely lady. we are complete opposites, but we get along great. blessed to be together most of our lives, blessed to have wonderful grandchildren. every day i am learning. i see life as the one long university education i never had. i am learning something new from getting out there, listening to people. i scribble everything down. i feel like i am a perpetual student. david: let me ask you a question i asked bill gates -- do you think you could be more successful in life if you had a university degree? richard: [laughter] no. at age 40, i said to my wife, i
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♪ nejra: bracing for brexit. e.u. members are told to escalate preparation for the new regulatory landscape. a culture shift. we look at the fca'sattempt to tame the city of london after it scandal. and, shifting the balance. completing the most conservative lineup in generations, what does brett kavanaugh's appointment mean for financial regulations? welcome to bloomberg markets "rules and returns"." i'm nejra cehic from from bloomberg's headquarters in london.