Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Chris Anderson: Welcome to TED.

  • Richard Branson: Thank you very much. The first TED has been great.

  • CA: Have you met anyone interesting?

  • RB: Well, the nice thing about TED is everybody's interesting.

  • I was very glad to see Goldie Hawn,

  • because I had an apology to make to her.

  • I'd had dinner with her about two years ago and I'd --

  • she had this big wedding ring and I put it on my finger and I couldn't get it off.

  • And I went home to my wife that night

  • and she wanted to know why I had another woman's big,

  • massive, big wedding ring on my finger.

  • And, anyway, the next morning we had to go along to the jeweler

  • and get it cut off.

  • So -- (Laughter) --

  • so apologies to Goldie.

  • CA: That's pretty good.

  • So, we're going to put up some slides

  • of some of your companies here.

  • You've started one or two in your time.

  • So, you know, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records --

  • I guess it all started with a magazine called Student.

  • And then, yes, all these other ones as well. I mean, how do you do this?

  • RB: I read all these sort of TED instructions:

  • you must not talk about your own business, and this,

  • and now you ask me.

  • So I suppose you're not going to be able to kick me off the stage,

  • since you asked the question.

  • (Laughter)

  • CA: It depends what the answer is though.

  • RB: No, I mean, I think I learned early on that if you can run one company,

  • you can really run any companies.

  • I mean, companies are all about finding the right people,

  • inspiring those people, you know, drawing out the best in people.

  • And I just love learning and I'm incredibly inquisitive

  • and I love taking on, you know, the status quo

  • and trying to turn it upside down.

  • So I've seen life as one long learning process.

  • And if I see -- you know, if I fly on somebody else's airline

  • and find the experience is not a pleasant one, which it wasn't,

  • 21 years ago, then I'd think, well, you know, maybe I can create

  • the kind of airline that I'd like to fly on.

  • And so, you know, so got one secondhand 747 from Boeing and gave it a go.

  • CA: Well, that was a bizarre thing,

  • because you made this move that a lot of people advised you was crazy.

  • And in fact, in a way, it almost took down your empire at one point.

  • I had a conversation with one of the investment bankers who,

  • at the time when you basically sold Virgin Records

  • and invested heavily in Virgin Atlantic,

  • and his view was that you were trading, you know,

  • the world's fourth biggest record company

  • for the twenty-fifth biggest airline and that you were out of your mind.

  • Why did you do that?

  • RB: Well, I think that there's a very thin dividing line between success and failure.

  • And I think if you start a business without financial backing,

  • you're likely to go the wrong side of that dividing line.

  • We had -- we were being attacked by British Airways.

  • They were trying to put our airline out of business,

  • and they launched what's become known as the dirty tricks campaign.

  • And I realized that the whole empire was likely to come crashing down

  • unless I chipped in a chip.

  • And in order to protect the jobs of the people who worked for the airline,

  • and protect the jobs of the people who worked for the record company,

  • I had to sell the family jewelry to protect the airline.

  • CA: Post-Napster, you're looking like a bit of a genius, actually,

  • for that as well.

  • RB: Yeah, as it turned out, it proved to be the right move.

  • But, yeah, it was sad at the time, but we moved on.

  • CA: Now, you use the Virgin brand a lot

  • and it seems like you're getting synergy from one thing to the other.

  • What does the brand stand for in your head?

  • RB: Well, I like to think it stands for quality,

  • that you know, if somebody comes across a Virgin company, they --

  • CA: They are quality, Richard. Come on now, everyone says quality. Spirit?

  • RB: No, but I was going to move on this.

  • We have a lot of fun and I think the people who work for it enjoy it.

  • As I say, we go in and shake up other industries,

  • and I think, you know, we do it differently

  • and I think that industries are not quite the same

  • as a result of Virgin attacking the market.

  • CA: I mean, there are a few launches you've done

  • where the brand maybe hasn't worked quite as well.

  • I mean, Virgin Brides -- what happened there?

  • (Laughter)

  • RB: We couldn't find any customers.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • CA: I was actually also curious why --

  • I think you missed an opportunity with your condoms launch. You called it Mates.

  • I mean, couldn't you have used the Virgin brand for that as well?

  • Ain't virgin no longer, or something.

  • RB: Again, we may have had problems finding customers.

  • I mean, we had -- often, when you launch a company and you get customer complaints,

  • you know, you can deal with them.

  • But about three months after the launch of the condom company,

  • I had a letter, a complaint,

  • and I sat down and wrote a long letter back to this lady apologizing profusely.

  • But obviously, there wasn't a lot I could do about it.

  • And then six months later, or nine months after the problem had taken,

  • I got this delightful letter with a picture of the baby

  • asking if I'd be godfather, which I became.

  • So, it all worked out well.

  • CA: Really? You should have brought a picture. That's wonderful.

  • RB: I should have.

  • CA: So, just help us with some of the numbers.

  • I mean, what are the numbers on this?

  • I mean, how big is the group overall?

  • How much -- what's the total revenue?

  • RB: It's about 25 billion dollars now, in total.

  • CA: And how many employees?

  • RB: About 55,000.

  • CA: So, you've been photographed in various ways at various times

  • and never worrying about putting your dignity on the line or anything like that.

  • What was that? Was that real?

  • RB: Yeah. We were launching a megastore in Los Angeles, I think.

  • No, I mean, I think --

  • CA: But is that your hair?

  • RB: No.

  • CA: What was that one?

  • RB: Dropping in for tea.

  • CA: OK.

  • (Laughter)

  • RB: Ah, that was quite fun. That was a wonderful car-boat in which --

  • CA: Oh, that car that we -- actually we --

  • it was a TEDster event there, I think.

  • Is that -- could you still pause on that one actually, for a minute?

  • (Laughter)

  • RB: It's a tough job, isn't it?

  • CA: I mean, it is a tough job.

  • (Laughter)

  • When I first came to America, I used to try this with employees as well

  • and they kind of -- they have these different rules over here,

  • it's very strange.

  • RB: I know, I have -- the lawyers say you mustn't do things like that, but --

  • CA: I mean, speaking of which, tell us about --

  • RB: "Pammy" we launched, you know --

  • mistakenly thought we could take on Coca-Cola,

  • and we launched a cola bottle called "The Pammy"

  • and it was shaped a bit like Pamela Anderson.

  • But the trouble is, it kept on tipping over, but --

  • (Laughter)

  • CA: Designed by Philippe Starck perhaps?

  • RB: Of course.

  • CA: So, we'll just run a couple more pictures here. Virgin Brides. Very nice.

  • And, OK, so stop there. This was -- you had some award I think?

  • RB: Yeah, well, 25 years earlier, we'd launched the Sex Pistols'

  • "God Save The Queen," and I'd certainly never expected

  • that 25 years later -- that she'd actually knight us.

  • But somehow, she must have had a forgetful memory, I think.

  • CA: Well, God saved her and you got your just reward.

  • Do you like to be called Sir Richard, or how?

  • RB: Nobody's ever called me Sir Richard.

  • Occasionally in America, I hear people saying Sir Richard

  • and think there's some Shakespearean play taking place.

  • But nowhere else anyway.

  • CA: OK. So can you use your knighthood for anything or is it just ...

  • RB: No. I suppose if you're having problems

  • getting a booking in a restaurant or something,

  • that might be worth using it.

  • CA: You know, it's not Richard Branson. It's Sir Richard Branson.

  • RB: I'll go get the secretary to use it.

  • CA: OK. So let's look at the space thing.

  • I think, with us, we've got a video that shows what you're up to,

  • and Virgin Galactic up in the air. (Video)

  • So that's the Bert Rutan designed spaceship?

  • RB: Yeah, it'll be ready in -- well, ready in 12 months

  • and then we do 12 months extensive testing.

  • And then 24 months from now,

  • people will be able to take a ride into space.

  • CA: So this interior is Philippe Starcke designed?

  • RB: Philippe has done the -- yeah, quite a bit of it:

  • the logos and he's building the space station in New Mexico.

  • And basically, he's just taken an eye

  • and the space station will be one giant eye,

  • so when you're in space,

  • you ought to be able to see this massive eye looking up at you.

  • And when you land, you'll be able to go back into this giant eye.

  • But he's an absolute genius when it comes to design.

  • CA: But you didn't have him design the engine?

  • RB: Philippe is quite erratic,

  • so I think that he wouldn't be the best person to design the engine, no.

  • CA: He gave a wonderful talk here two days ago.

  • RB: Yeah? No, he is a --

  • CA: Well, some people found it wonderful,

  • some people found it completely bizarre.

  • But, I personally found it wonderful.

  • RB: He's a wonderful enthusiast, which is why I love him. But ...

  • CA: So, now, you've always had this exploration bug in you.

  • Have you ever regretted that?

  • RB: Many times.

  • I mean, I think with the ballooning and boating expeditions we've done in the past.

  • Well, I got pulled out of the sea I think six times by helicopters, so --

  • and each time, I didn't expect to come home to tell the tale.

  • So in those moments,

  • you certainly wonder what you're doing up there or --

  • CA: What was the closest you got to --

  • when did you think, this is it, I might be on my way out?

  • RB: Well, I think the balloon adventures were -- each one was,

  • each one, actually, I think we came close.

  • And, I mean, first of all we --

  • nobody had actually crossed the Atlantic in a hot air balloon before,

  • so we had to build a hot air balloon that was capable of flying in the jet stream,

  • and we weren't quite sure,

  • when a balloon actually got into the jet stream,

  • whether it would actually survive the 200, 220 miles an hour winds that you can find up there.

  • And so, just the initial lift off from Sugarloaf to cross the Atlantic,

  • as we were pushing into the jet stream, this enormous balloon --

  • the top of the balloon ended up going at a couple of hundred miles an hour,

  • the capsule that we were in at the bottom was going at maybe two miles an hour,

  • and it just took off.

  • And it was like holding onto a thousand horses.

  • And we were just crossing every finger,

  • praying that the balloon would hold together, which, fortunately, it did.

  • But the ends of all those balloon trips were, you know --

  • something seemed to go wrong every time,

  • and on that particular occasion, the more experienced balloonist who was with me

  • jumped, and left me holding on for dear life.

  • (Laughter)

  • CA: Did he tell you to jump, or he just said, "I'm out of here!" and ...

  • RB: No, he told me jump, but once his weight had gone,

  • the balloon just shot up to 12,000 feet and I ...

  • CA: And you inspired an Ian McEwan novel I think with that.

  • RB: Yeah. No, I put on my oxygen mask and stood on top of the balloon,

  • with my parachute, looking at the swirling clouds below,

  • trying to pluck up my courage to jump into the North Sea, which --

  • and it was a very, very, very lonely few moments.

  • But, anyway, we managed to survive it.

  • CA: Did you jump? Or it came down in the end?

  • RB: Well, I knew I had about half an hour's fuel left,

  • and I also knew that the chances were that if I jumped,

  • I would only have a couple of minutes of life left.

  • So I climbed back into the capsule and just desperately tried

  • to make sure that I was making the right decision.

  • And wrote some notes to my family. And then climbed back up again,

  • looked down at those clouds again,

  • climbed back into the capsule again.

  • And then finally, just thought, there's a better way.

  • I've got, you know, this enormous balloon above me,

  • it's the biggest parachute ever, why not use it?

  • And so I managed to fly the balloon down through the clouds,

  • and about 50 feet, before I hit the sea, threw myself over.

  • And the balloon hit the sea

  • and went shooting back up to 10,000 feet without me.

  • But it was a wonderful feeling being in that water and --

  • CA: What did you write to your family?

  • RB: Just what you would do in a situation like that:

  • just I love you very much. And

  • I'd already written them a letter before going on this trip, which --