A week with Richard Branson on Necker Island

Sir Richard Branson is courteous to his staff, cares deeply for the environment, was a close confidante of Nelson Mandela and believes technology will save the world.

The revelations about the flamboyant head of the Virgin business empire emerge after Chris Dutton, the CEO and founder of Australian-based CEO Magazine, spent several days with the entrepreneur on his private island.

Nothing really fazes (Branson), apart from the little things in life.

Chris Dutton

Dutton also found that the business tycoon who once butted heads with global corporations in music retailing, airline travel, soft drinks, credit cards and even space travel, is these days less concerned about conquering the world than he is about saving it.

In his full report in CEO Magazine, which hit newsstands on Thursday, Dutton recounts his experience as one of a small group invited to a conference titled 'Change Makers and Rule Breakers' on Necker Island in the Caribbean.

"When you get a phone call inviting you to the home of Sir Richard Branson for four days of networking with 30 of the world's leading entrepreneurs, it's not a call that you choose to ignore," Dutton says.

Nature calls

He was surprised that Branson's inaugural address to his assembled guests was not about business or even big ideas, but the pristine Necker Island environment, which Branson describes as "a utopia for animals".

"When he walks into his lounge with an air of casual, relaxed confidence, it becomes immediately apparent that Richard is extremely passionate about nature," Dutton recounts.

"It's clear to see from the start that alongside all of his entrepreneurial flair and business acumen, he is a passionate, kind, and good-willed nature lover."

A man is not an island

However, it's not long before Branson's well-known mischievous side emerges, telling Dutton and his fellow guests the next few days are about "having a party, having fun, and sharing ideas" and that he encouraged them to "misbehave outrageously".

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Branson tells his guests that although poverty and wars are declining and the global population set to plateau, climate change cannot be allowed to get out of control and technology will be at the forefront of the solution.

"Branson comes across as a caring character who accepts that his role in society is now more about effecting change, in contrast to building new companies with the goal of turning huge profits," Dutton says.

"Mind you, when you are worth nearly US$5 billion, you own your own airline, and you live on your own private island, then one can fully understand and respect that position."

Untied by convention

As well as advocating strongly for conflict resolution and clean energy – Branson believe the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 – the tycoon despises ties and suits, and is also a fan of working from home rather than in offices. That's not a difficult stance to understand from a man who spends a large portion of every year on his own tropical island.

Branson also told his guests about some of the initiatives he worked on with Nelson Mandela, including an AIDS benefit concert in Cape Town and a bailout of a South African health club chain that saved 5000 jobs.

Dutton says Branson was generous with his time with guests, joining them for most meals, and that "nothing really fazes him, apart from the little things in life".

"In our first main session with Branson, one of the Necker Island staff brought him out a cuppa that wasn't quite to his taste," he says.

The tea-loving tycoon lowered his voice and politely asked of the staff member for more milk because "I'm fussy with tea".

It was, Dutton says, indicative of a man who is both highly personable and a true perfectionist.

Key take-aways

Here are seven key messages Dutton took from the 'Change Makers and Rule Breakers' conference on Necker Island with Sir Richard Branson:

  • It's better to do well and earn money by doing something that is for the greater good. Anything that can improve people's lives is a good thing.
  • You don't learn to walk by following rules – you learn to walk by falling over, getting back up, and trying again.
  • Investing in clean energy companies now will produce rewards in the future.
  • It's not about how much you achieve in life, but what you leave instilled in your children and whether they can continue that forward.
  • Don't throw away any ideas because you think they are impossible. Just make a decision to achieve it, and do it.
  • Sitting in Richard Branson's private hot tub gazing up at the stars where he had the idea to launch Virgin Galactic and connect people with space, I learned that you should never forget the special moments in life, no matter what happens. Take inspiration from them and always remind yourself of them.
  • You are more likely to be successful in life by surrounding yourself with successful people in life.

Extracts from the article 'Inspiration in Paradise' by Chris Dutton in CEO Magazine.