Edwin van Rest

What we learned from Sir Richard Branson


In September this year I had the privilege to be part of a selected group of social entrepreneurs that were invited to stay at Sir Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands.

After all the books, the stories, the countless videos I was afraid I might have too high expectations, but reality could not have been more inspiring. Four full days with Richard and many other great entrepreneurs was the most casual yet effective and eye-opening learning experience ever – and, surely lots of fun too!

Here’s a summary of what I learnt – and how it relates my personal and also the StudyPortals context:

Purpose is KEY:

Richard loved StudyPortals for its clear and social purpose – very encouraging something our whole team can fully identify with and the reason why we work together. Richard never started business to make money. When he started his student magazine he was looking for a peaceful way to protest against the Vietnam War, ever since he has been chasing his dreams.

I think I should be busy?

I often think it’s justified that I am still working on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons while building a fast-growing, international company. There are so many projects and we want to make sure to deliver the best client results because universities are so special, so service needs to be extra reliable because – amongst others – of the important life consequences of study choice. Richard Branson leads 70,000 employees, in over 200 companies including airlines and the first ‘spaceline’ – he pretty much ‘worked’ from 5 am until 7h30 am each morning. For the rest of the day he spent most of the time with us to share each other’s vision of life and sustainable business ideas but also for tennis, kite-surfing, swimming or extensive animal watching. He was even able to spend plenty of time for each individual and was genuinely interested in their story, their thoughts, and their life.

Be bold, make a mark, “Screw it, let’s do it!”

Richard consistently goes all-in to realize his dreams – be it purposeful companies, adventures, world records, sports championships or political objectives. He consistently has put his life, his full wealth and even extra mortgage on the line. When he started Virgin Atlantic he even had to sell his growing ‘baby’, the record company, to be able to compete with British Airways. The most bizarre episode Richard told me were his doubts if he should be going on the next Virgin Galactic test flight. Emotionally he wanted to go, but he wasn’t sure yet….

He believes in the importance StudyPortals as a product and empowered us to go all in. With gifts and talents come great responsibility, and ours is to fulfill the mission as good and fast possible as our team can!

“To be second choice means nothing.”

Be the best in what you do – no compromise in your area of focus. Very much in line with the StudyPortals belief ‘there’s no silver medal in our line of work’.

Don’t Do It If It’s Not Fun

Have fun, try to make the world a bit better but also enjoy the journey. Find work you adore. Life is too short to spend it doing unfulfilling work.

Always be kind, open and non-judgmental

Richard told a story of an employee that betrayed him in the records business, he had stolen and cheated. He would give him a second chance and the person turned out to be one of his most valuable employees, signing on many stars to the record label. Virgin currently even has a policy to recruit as much ex-convicts as possible in their company and they have had very little disappointments – actually received loyalty and gratitude in return. Wow!

Kick in the B**

All in all, I thought I had a purposeful, fun, ambitious and non-judgmental company and life – but Richard has effectively shown me there’s still a whole mountain of progress left to aspire. It’s been the most gentle, most effective kick in the butt ever – thank you Richard, I will dream bigger, go for it harder, but it’ll take a looong time until I can fit that into a 2.5hr work day I am afraid… 😉

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