Entrepreneur, adventurer, philanthropist, music mogul, airline owner, space pioneer … what hasn’t Sir Richard Branson done?
Well, the flamboyant Englishman who founded the multi-faceted Virgin Co. had never visited Richmond before his whirlwind one-day tour through the city Sept. 9. During his jaunt, he hosted a sold-out dinner and after-party at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to benefit area youth charities, and helped to launch Richmond Unite, a satellite offshoot of his crusading Virgin Unite (more at richmondunite.org).
Branson sat down with Style Weekly following his rousing, light-saber-wielding keynote appearance at a Richmond Unite conference on innovation and “disruptive thinking” at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
Style: Tell us about Virgin Unite and what it does.
Richard Branson: Virgin Unite is an organization that tackles global problems in an entrepreneurial way, [like] climate control issues … working with the Center for Disease Control in Africa to deal with diseases. We’ve got an organization over there helping to deal with [animal] species that are in peril. We also try to help local organizations get set up, like Richmond Unite. The small charities here are the same as the other charities [that Virgin Unite helps], it’s just different issues.
As a global warming activist, is it disheartening to learn that many U.S. politicians, including nearly all of the GOP presidential candidates, argue that global warming is a hoax?
It is bizarre that some politicians don’t listen to scientists in the community. But in America, you do have that. Therefore the way we address it in America is: OK, we are running out of oil and you don’t want to rely on the Middle East. We’re on the same side, so let’s come up with alternative fuels; let’s come up with ways where we are powering up our cities in a clean way, by using the wind and the sun. Let’s not be dependent on using foreign oil for our fuel. We did a study recently that showed that in six years the demand for oil [will] exceed supply. And the mother of all second recessions will come when that happens, when prices go through the roof. So let’s just be energy efficient.
If you were starting out today, could you found a company like Virgin?
I don’t think I could start in the music business, although I love music, because the music business is really in dire straits at the moment. But I definitely think [I could start a business]. What I would simply do is figure out what frustrates me. If something is frustrating you, you’ll want to go in and address that problem and do it better than whoever is doing it so badly.
You got your start in the counterculture, so what advice would you give young Richmonders battling the city’s current war on fun -- unconstitutional noise ordinances and dancing restrictions and so on?
Well, I think it’s sad that people don’t think more about other people. So if no one is going to set up a place where young people can dance and have a good time, or snooker halls or pool halls or what have you, then they are going to end up on the streets and have no alternative. And that’s not good for society either. I think councils have got to be braver in giving [support]. … Society has got to look after its young as well as the people with a bit more money, people who vote a bit more and have politicians listening to them. They should be looking out for the teenagers and the young adults as well.
Just a few weeks ago, your Caribbean home burned down in a fire. How have you been making out?
Everybody’s well and healthy. When you analyze it, it’s just a house. We’re rebuilding it and we’re going to make it better.
Editor's note: A reporter from Richmond BizSense was present during this interview.