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THE HOYOS FILE: Sir Richard’s business adventure


THE HOYOS FILE: Sir Richard’s business adventure

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SIR RICHARD BRANSON, who is among the most storied and passionate entrepreneurs of our time, gave at least two publicly-staged interviews over about a week.

The ones I am referring to are his appearance on a Washington Post-sponsored Programme called Cape UP, in which he was interviewed by the newspaper’s outstanding columnist Jonathan Capeheart, and his headlining of the Virgin Atlantic-sponsored event, Business Is An Adventure, held at Hilton Barbados last Wednesday.

Having only listened to the Capeheart interview via podcast, I can’t tell you anything about the ambience or the level of service offered at that event, but I can tell you about the other one.

It was impeccably done. Kudos should go to Virgo Communications for coordinating it, as well as the Virgin Atlantic employees who were very present as well.

Perhaps the most visual way I can praise all those involved is to say that the entire “production”, if you will, was what you might expect on the evening of a luxury product launch, rather than at a morning event, which it actually was, and at which such production “values” may be more easily missed on account of caffeine deficiency.

The darkened room, the large screen, the music, the lighting, and the Virgin Atlantic food outside of the conference room were all superb. Who plays a violin in the morning?

Now, you know the reason I don’t get ahead in life or in my rapidly waning career is that I never “eliminate the negative”.

Putting it another way – since this was an airline-sponsored event – you might say that I had a few reservations.

I’m not going to dwell on them because this column is more about all the entrepreneurship medicine we are currently being asked to swallow to cure our obviously slothful and unenterprising approach to business.

Suffice it to say that there were two live events featuring Sir Richard in the last week or two. Neither was intended as a news conference, but in one, Sir Richard’s passion, his optimism mixed with his urgent desire to try to fix the things he sees that are wrong in the world, his cutting sense of humour, and
above all, his clear enunciation of his role as an entrepreneur, came through sharply.

In the other, Sir Richard was fawned over, seemed embarrassed by it, and perhaps as a result did a lot more hemming and hawing than he already does, and dropped massive hints that he wanted follow-up questions on where he stands on the most important issues affecting the world, which were ignored.

One newspaper report said he was treated as a “rock star”, so if we go with that metaphor, I would say he gave me the impression of an old rocker who desperately wanted to play some of his new material but was being forced to perform all of the oldie-goldies.

The first event described above was not the one that took place in Barbados.

The Barbados event should have been titled Business As A Richard Branson Adventure, and if you had read even his first autobiography, you would have known most of the anecdotes.

Of course, Sir Richard was appearing as the face of the Virgin brand, so his own projects and personal ideas were subsumed at the Barbados event. Who am I to say, but in my view, it functioned as a disservice to him.

Anyway, this brings me (I think) to what I said was the bitter medicine we are being asked to swallow, which is that we Bajans seems to be suffering from a lack of entrepreneurship, a condition which can only be remedied by attending endless leadership seminars in which the few who have made millions by being entrepreneurs tell us their moving rags-to-riches stories, which are meant to release the entrepreneur in each of us.

I notice that lately I am getting more and more invitations to these seminars, all of them inviting me to shell out hundreds of dollars so that the speakers can make me a better leader, and unleash the enterprising spirit which is chained to a stone somewhere inside my ageing body.

One of the things Sir Richard did say at the Barbados event, which was, of course, not followed up – although a Barbados version was probably the most salient suggestion that could have come out of that PR blitz – was that he and others had convinced David Cameron to do something.

The something was to make loans or grants available to young people who did not have university degrees, because the entrepreneurial spirit is not dependent on it.

He noted that he never went to university but was in business from the age of 15, and he felt there were others like him who just needed seed money.

So the then British prime minister was promised that a whole raft of mentors would be made available from Virgin and other companies to guide those young people through their first business efforts and ensure the loans were not wasted.

Something like that, anyway. It all went by in a blur because we had to know about his more outrageous exploits or whatever.

Running out of space here, let me summarise by saying that Barbados has no shortage of entrepreneurs, people who can go out there and build businesses for themselves. What they don’t have is capital.

If we can, as a country, find ways to lend or grant them capital based on a good idea and business plan, guided by mentors, then they might be encouraged to push off from the mothership in their own dinghies and face the shark-infested waters of the free market.

Until then, spare me all the entrepreneurship evangelism. It is irresponsible to tell people to just do it when they have children to feed and bills to pay, including the hefty prices of admission to those uplifting seminars.