Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group, speaks during the 13th annual Aviation Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on April 3, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The summit is hosted by US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group, speaks during the 13th annual Aviation Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on April 3, 2014 in Washington, D.C. The summit is hosted by US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has never taken the traditional route. At 16, he dropped out of school to start “Student” magazine, marking the start of a lifetime spent building companies from scratch. Virgin Records, his first major venture, grew to become the world’s biggest independent record label. Today, Branson is worth $5 billion, and is as well-known for his publicity stunts and risk-taking as for his business success. One of his latest ventures may be the boldest yet: with plans to make commercial space flight a reality with Virgin Galactic, he says it’s time we stop looking at our iPhones and turn our gaze skyward. In his latest book, he reflects on more than 40 years of leadership and the risks that built the Virgin empire. Richard Branson on his unconventional life in business.

Guests

  • Richard Branson Founder of the Virgin Group.

Read An Excerpt

Reprinted from “THE VIRGIN WAY: Everything I Know About Leadership” by Richard Branson with permission of Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Richard Branson, 2014.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Sir Richard Branson doesn't mind being called crazy. Risk-taking has been at the heart of his business decisions since a young age and that's paid off. Today, the Virgin Group is made up of more than 400 companies in areas including travel, financial services, entertainment and health care. In 1999, Branson was awarded knighthood for services through entrepreneurship. Much of his time is now also spent on efforts to improve the planet, from finding solutions to global warming to advocating for a new approach to treating and punishing drug addiction. His new book is titled, "The Virgin Way." It reflects on more than 40 years of business leadership.

  • 11:07:49

    MS. DIANE REHMSir Richard Branson joins me from the NPR studios in New York. And you're invited to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And, Sir Richard, it's good to have you with us.

  • 11:08:17

    SIR RICHARD BRANSONHello, Diane. It's nice to be able to see you down the -- down this what-you-call-it.

  • 11:08:21

    REHMOn this Google Plus.

  • 11:08:22

    BRANSONAnyway, nice to see you in the reality.

  • 11:08:23

    REHMYes. It's great to see you.

  • 11:08:25

    BRANSONThe wonders of satellite.

  • 11:08:26

    REHMThank you. I wanted to get an idea of why you were led to drop out of high school at age 16.

  • 11:08:41

    BRANSONWell, I wasn't that good at school. I was dyslexic, which although they didn't actually know about dyslexia in those days, I felt passionately about some issues. The Vietnamese War was raging. And I think a lot of young people were violently anti the war. And I wanted to start a magazine that gave young people a voice. And I had master call me into the study one day and said, you'll either have to leave school and do the magazine or stay at school and just do your home -- your school work.

  • 11:09:14

    BRANSONAnd I decided I would leave school and do the magazine and that became my education.

  • 11:09:20

    REHMHow did your parents feel about your leaving school at that age?

  • 11:09:26

    BRANSONI had to walk around the garden quite a few times with my dad. And in the end, he said, "Look, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was 22. My father sort of forced me to go into the law. You know what you want to do. And if you can -- we've got no money to fund you, but if you can sell enough advertising from the school phone box to cover the printing and the paper costs of the magazine, we'll let you leave school." And somehow that gave me the determination to either get -- to sell the advertising to fund the printing and the paper costs of the magazine. And once I'd done it, he stuck with his promise and let me leave school.

  • 11:10:05

    REHMTell me how you raised that money.

  • 11:10:10

    BRANSONIt was literally ringing up, you know, Coca-Cola or Pepsi and persuading them that young people, you know, might buy more of their drinks if they, when they brought into this new magazine. Or ringing up the banks and saying young people might go to your bank rather than somebody else's bank. And in those days, you had phone boxes, you had to put money in. And, you know, so I think it was about 10 pounds or, you know, $20 worth of coins that helped this, you know, get the magazine going. And I had queues of people waiting outside the phone box to make other calls. And I was trying to run my business from the school phone box, which was rather tough.

  • 11:10:49

    REHMAnd tell me how long it took to raise the necessary money for that magazine.

  • 11:10:58

    BRANSONIt was -- I was 14 at the time. And it took me about a year to sell about 4,000 pounds worth of advertisement, which was about $6,000 worth of advertising. And, you know, once I'd got that amount of money, I knew that I could print 50,000 copies of the magazine.

  • 11:11:15

    REHMHuh.

  • 11:11:15

    BRANSONAnd then -- and so, I knew that I was on my way.

  • 11:11:20

    REHMAnd tell me about listening. Because you've written on page 5, very, very carefully about learning how to listen, which was something you had a hard time doing while you were in school. But then, when you were interviewing people like John Lennon or John le Carrè, it was very different for you.

  • 11:11:53

    BRANSONYes. I think not enough business leaders know the art of listening. They love to hear their own voices. And I was fortunate to learn from a young age that other people -- by listening to other people, you learn an awful lot more than by listening to yourself. And so in running the magazine, obviously, I was going out and, you know, doing a lot of interviews with lots of fascinating people. And it became my education. And, you know, the magazine, we'd campaign not just on issues like the Vietnamese War, but we campaigned on issues like the Biafran War. There were Provos in Holland. There were young people marching on the streets. It was an exciting time. And so going out and listening, we created a great magazine as a result.

  • 11:12:39

    BRANSONAnd then, ever since, I think being a good leader, building ventures -- you know, the best way to make those ventures exceptional rather than average is to listen to your people who are out on the front lines, listen to your customers, and then do something about it.

  • 11:12:55

    REHMBut you've got so many business ventures going. Of course, Virgin Records represented the first major business for you. How did it come to be and why did you call it virgin?

  • 11:13:13

    BRANSONWell, I was 15. I was in experienced. And I was also inexperienced at business. So Virgin seemed appropriate. And really almost every business I've started since, we were virgin at the business. We had to learn how to do it. Virgin Records came about because a young -- another young 15-year-old brought me a tape, beautiful music, but nobody was interested in putting it out. So all the other record companies had turned him down. And so we thought we'd form our own little record company to put his music out. And that was a (word?) with Mike Oldfield and the album was called "Tubular Bells," and it became a big success all over the world.

  • 11:14:09

    BRANSONWilliam Friedkin heard it and used the music in "The Exorcist," that -- one extreme to the other. I mean, the music was very beautiful, "The Exorcist" was perhaps anything but. But it definitely helped propel him into stardom and helped build our record company.

  • 11:14:27

    REHMAnd how did you raise the money initially to record that first album?

  • 11:14:37

    BRANSONI stood outside the Albert Hall and other rock concerts handing out leaflets, offering people discount records. And I hadn't actually bought the records. But as people filled in the forms and sent the money, I would then go to the record shop, negotiate a discount, and then sell them -- send them their records. And in that way, we became the first company that was actually selling music at a cheaper price than everybody else.

  • 11:15:06

    REHMHmm. Hmm.

  • 11:15:06

    BRANSONAnd that helped fund -- enabled me then to put the, you know, first few records out on our record label.

  • 11:15:17

    REHMAnd I think that people really might be surprised to hear how you started Virgin Atlantic. Tell us that story.

  • 11:15:29

    BRANSONWell, I was in Puerto Rico. I was about 28 years old. I was trying to get to the Virgin Islands. I had a beautiful lady waiting for me, who later on turned out to be my wife. And it was six in the evening. And American Airlines didn't have enough passengers on board and they decided to cancel the flight and told us all to come back the next morning. And I wanted -- I was determined to get there that night. I was in love. And so I went to the back of the airport and I negotiated the hiring of a plane. I borrowed a blackboard. And just for fun, I wrote Virgin Airlines, $29 one way, to the BVI. And I went out amongst all the passengers who'd been bumped and I filled up my first plane.

  • 11:16:14

    BRANSONAnd then, when we arrived in the BVI, everybody gave me a round of applause. And somebody said, you know, sharpen up the service a bit and you'll be in the airline business. And so I rang up Boeing the next day and said, have you got any second-hand 747s for sale? And surprisingly, they took my call seriously. At the end of the call, they said they'd send a sales person to see me. But they did say that with a name like Virgin, if I did get into the airline business, they just hoped our airlines would go the whole way. So...

  • 11:16:49

    REHMYou know, it's so funny because the 25th anniversary wedding gift my husband gave to me was a trip to Venice, Florence and Paris. We were booked on British Airways. We got to Dulles Airport. They told us the British Airways flight had been cancelled, but they were putting us on this new airline called Virgin Airways. It was the most beautiful trip I think I've ever had on that plane.

  • 11:17:35

    BRANSONWell, that's a lovely story. And somehow, I'm glad you didn't have to go and rent a whole plane to get there.

  • 11:17:41

    REHMIt really worked out very well. So risk-taking is obviously something you love to do.

  • 11:17:54

    BRANSONI loved -- I love to challenge myself. I hate saying no to a challenge. And that applies to both my personal life and my business life. But, you know, as a business leader, it's always important to protect the downside. So, I mean, for instance when we took on that first 747 from Boeing, I'd said to Boeing, look it's very important. I think that I can create a special airline. But if, in a year's time, I'm proven wrong, I want to be able to hand that plane back to you because I don't want to bankrupt our record company and all the hard work everybody had put into it. They gave me a shot.

  • 11:18:33

    REHMSir Richard Branson, and he is the founder of the Virgin Group. Stay with us.

  • 11:19:52

    REHMAnd welcome back. Sir Richard Branson is on the line with me from New York. In fact, I am seeing him as well as hearing him on Google Plus. He's in our studios -- NPR studios in New York. His new book is titled "The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership." He's certainly already talked about listening, a quality I certainly believe in and share with him, believing that listening is probably a lot more important than talking.

  • 11:20:40

    REHMBut here's an email from Larry who says, "I wonder if you could talk about your dyslexia and how it has helped or hurt you growing up."

  • 11:20:58

    BRANSONYeah, it's strange because I think if I hadn't been dyslexic I most likely would've been a sportsman and I would not have embarked on the path I did. So I think as long as you pursue what you're good at and delegate what you're not good at you can do exceptionally well. And some of the more exceptional people -- I mean, Mr. Charles Schwab here in America is dyslexic -- there's a lot of dyslexic people -- have gone on to do great things.

  • 11:21:32

    BRANSONI'll just tell an amusing story. When I was 50 I was having a board meeting. And by then we were running the largest group of private companies in Europe. And during the meeting I said, is that good news or bad news when somebody gave me some figures. And so one of the directors said, come outside, and went outside. And he said, Richard, you don't know the difference between net and gross, do you? And I admitted I didn't.

  • 11:22:00

    BRANSONAnd so he pulled out a piece of paper, he penciled in a net in the ocean and he penciled in the ocean, put some fish in the net. And he said, Richard the fish inside the net, that's your profit at the end of the year, that's your net profit. And everything else that's not in the net is your gross turnover. And suddenly I got it.

  • 11:22:17

    REHMWhat a great way to -- absolutely. What a great demonstration.. And you got it and you've remembered it forever.

  • 11:22:30

    BRANSONYep, I mean, the point I'm trying to make is I think is simply that in business as long as you can add up and subtract and maybe multiply and you're a good delegator, you don't need to spend -- you don't need to know a lot of these things. And my instinct as a result of being dyslexic is not to ask accountants to come and examine whether something is going to be profitable or not. It's just to get out there and do it. And then, you know, by creating something really special, more money comes in at the end of the year than goes out. And, you know, that's -- you know, if you create something really special and it's the best in its field then generally it'll be successful.

  • 11:23:12

    REHMNow tell me how many employees you think you have.

  • 11:23:20

    BRANSONWe have about 70,000 people who work for Virgin around the world. And then I suppose, you know, since I started when I was 14, and that's only 50 years now, you know, maybe tens of thousands have been with Virgin over the years. So it's been -- we've got a great group of people. We've had a great group of people. And, you know, we're very proud of a lot of them.

  • 11:23:45

    REHMHow many times a year would you say you get to see the various employees or the heads of those companies to be able to listen, to hear what they have to say?

  • 11:24:06

    BRANSONI like to live our businesses. So if I'm on a Virgin Atlantic plane I will get out and spend time talking to everybody who works for the company on the plane. I will, you know, talk to the passengers. I'll shake their hands. I'll do pitches with them. But the most important thing is by listening and having a notebook in my pocket, at the end of any flight I will have written down most likely 15, 20 little things. And it could be as simple as, you know, maybe the new shoe that the cabin crew are wearing is rubbing on their feet. It could be that, you know, one of the passengers didn't get their kosher meal.

  • 11:24:48

    BRANSONBut it's getting on top of these little things that makes for an exceptional airlines or exceptional company over an average company. And, you know, I would expect anybody that's running those companies to do the same thing, you know, when they're out and about. Sitting in an office behind the big desk is not the way to run a company. And in this day and age you've got no excuse to do that. You've got mobile phones. You know, the more you can be out and about learning about what's going on the more successful your company will be.

  • 11:25:21

    REHMI gather you have quite a few of those small notebooks you keep in your back pocket.

  • 11:25:32

    BRANSONYes. I mean, you know, it's also very useful when I come to write a book because I can refer back to anecdotes and things. And it's just that much easier. We had a big fire at my home a couple of years ago and I lost all my old notebooks. So in new books I'm going to have to do it more based on memory but fortunately I'd already managed to publish a few books and publish my autobiography. So, you know, at least we've got that on record before the fire.

  • 11:26:07

    REHMAll right. Here is something to jog your memory, an email from Brian who says, "A few years ago Sir Richard pledged to donate $3 billion to battle climate change. And at least several sources say he's delivered a fraction of that amount. Does he feel he's failed to deliver and what is he going to do to keep his promise? And since climate change is very much in the news today, I'd be interested in your comments."

  • 11:26:50

    BRANSONWhat I pledge to do was to give 100 percent of any profits or any dividends that the Virgin Group -- I'm sorry, the Virgin Airlines or the train companies or the spaceship companies paid to the Virgin Group and invest it in clean energy. And we've done that and we've done more. What we -- the last eight years since we made that pledge, airlines have not done that well because the -- you know, we had the economic crisis.

  • 11:27:24

    BRANSONSo we've had to dig into our pockets from some of the other Virgin companies. And we will continue to draw on other Virgin companies in the years to come. And we won't stop at the end of ten years. So, you know, we have to fill our pledge in full and we're doing an awful lot of things on climate change, which I'll be happy to talk about.

  • 11:27:49

    REHMI'd like to hear that.

  • 11:27:52

    BRANSONSo we've set up something called the Carbon War Room, which is a way of trying to work with the 21 industries that put out the most carbon and come up with imaginative ways of them reducing their carbon output, but at the same time hopefully not damaging their industries. So if I give you one example, the trucking industry. Yesterday we announced an idea whereby trucks can reduce their fuel burn and their carbon output by 40 percent. And then we've listed 60 different items that trucks can do to reduce their fuel burn. Some of those items would have to apply to new trucks. Some could actually apply to current trucks on the road.

  • 11:28:47

    BRANSONThe aviation industry, we're working with the aviation industry in trying to develop clean fuels. And, you know, for instance, there's a company called LanzaTech in New Zealand that have come up with a way of taking the waste product from aluminum plants and steel plants that at the moment goes out the chimney and turning it into jet aviation fuel. And Virgin Atlantic is going to be the first company to benefit from that. And that is recycling at its very best.

  • 11:29:19

    BRANSONIsland states, we're working with island states -- and obviously I live on an island and we're going carbon neutral -- to try to turn island states into carbon neutral places. And this day and age solar -- the price of solar has come down to such a great level that it now competes with coal. And it's obviously much better to power your islands or power your ventures, you know, by the power of the sun. And we've got a lot of other projects, you know, similar projects.

  • 11:29:52

    REHMWhat do you think about fracking?

  • 11:29:57

    BRANSONYeah, it's a good question. I mean, it would be obviously better I think if fracking had not come up and that all the energy could've gone into completely clean fuels like wind and solar and other clean fuels. The key -- the most important thing with fracking is that they make sure that they collect the methane and that they don't let the methane go up into the earth's atmosphere. Otherwise fracking is going to be similar to producing coal.

  • 11:30:31

    BRANSONSo, you know, I think regulators -- I mean, I think fracking -- you're not going to turn the clock back. It's going to make America self sufficient in energy, but it's very important the regulators make sure that methane is not lost in the process.

  • 11:30:50

    REHMSir Richard, tell us about the experience of being knighted. I'd like to know what was going on in your mind, in your heart that very day.

  • 11:31:08

    BRANSONWell, it's a wonderful old fashioned British system. It's obviously a great honor and it was lovely. My parents were alive and my children were old enough to appreciate it. I was a little nervous because many, many, many years ago we put out an album called "Go Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols. And I was a little nervous that the sword would just cut my head off rather than to tap my shoulder. But somehow she'd either forgotten or she'd forgiven me. And she was absolutely delightful. And it was a lovely day at Buckingham Palace. And, yeah, some happy memories and a nice thing to share with the family.

  • 11:31:54

    REHMAnd a huge celebration afterwards I gather.

  • 11:32:00

    BRANSONOf course. I mean, they give you a white horse. You have to learn to hold a lance and knock all the knights of their horses. And so it's -- Americans can just imagine what us knights have to do. We have to rally around the Queen at any time we're called.

  • 11:32:22

    REHMAbsolutely. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now I'd like to hear about your thoughts on intergalactic travel and how far away you think that may be in our future.

  • 11:32:47

    BRANSONWell, intergalactic may be a way away but galactic -- Virgin Galactic travel not very far away at all. We embarked on a program to try to build spaceships to take you and me or other people listening to this program into space. It's taken us a lot longer than we'd expected. It is rock science. It was far more difficult than we actually thought. We've had some of the most brilliant engineers there are working in the Mohave Desert beavering away to get there.

  • 11:33:24

    BRANSONAbout two months ago they finally had the big breakthrough and we now have two rockets that work. And we've had two teams working on it. They both actually came good the same week. And so I'm confident that by the end of this year, Virgin Galactic will have put our first spaceship into space. And we will then move the whole operation to New Mexico where a beautiful space port awaits Virgin Galactic and the 800 people who signed up to go into space.

  • 11:33:59

    BRANSONAnd in about March, myself, my son will go to space. I was hoping my daughter would join us but she's pregnant now with twins, so she's got more important things.

  • 11:34:07

    REHMI see. With twins. Oh, how wonderful.

  • 11:34:13

    BRANSONYeah, it's magical. And they should be born around about the same time. So maybe we'll come up with some space names for them.

  • 11:34:21

    REHMSo now, how much will those 800 people pay for that first flight?

  • 11:34:30

    BRANSONWell, I'd like to put it in perspective. If you go up on a Russian spaceship it costs about $40 million. We will be charging $250,000. And those people will be the pioneers that have helped us fund the whole program to date. And the idea would be that in five or ten years time we'll be able to get the price down. And, you know, maybe in 20 years time, 25 years time, we'll start hopefully transporting people from, you know, Los Angeles to London, you know, in an hour or an hour-and-a-half by space and in an environmentally-friendly way. So we'll pop out of the earth's atmosphere and then pop back in again. So many exciting things for the future.

  • 11:35:19

    REHMAnd how far, how fast and where to will that first flight go?

  • 11:35:28

    BRANSONSo our first flight will be into space. When you go into space you'll be able to unbuckle. You'll be able to float around. You'll be able to look back at the earth through big windows we've got in the spaceship. And it'll give you a taste of space. In future spaceships that we build we'll start orbital flights, then we'll start point-to-point flights. And then we might even start deep space exploration flights. So a very exciting future and this is the first time that...

  • 11:36:04

    REHMHow will you prepare those 800 people for that first flight?

  • 11:36:10

    BRANSONWell, I mean, I'm going through the training program at the moment so I've done centrifuge training which is where you actually replicate the flight in a centrifuge. And you can work out how well your body's going to cope. You know, my body seemed to so far be coping very well but it's just good to prepare yourself for it. I'll be doing some aeronautical flights just to again help me prepare for it. I'll be doing some zero G gravity flights.

  • 11:36:45

    BRANSONBut it's not necessary but I just think to make sure that you really have an enjoyable flight it's good to be fit, be healthy and be prepared.

  • 11:36:54

    REHMSir Richard Branson. His new book is titled "The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership." Short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones, read your comments, questions. Stay with us.

  • 11:39:52

    REHMAnd welcome back. Sir Richard Branson is my guest. He's joining me via Google Plus from our NPR studios in New York. His new book is titled "The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership." Let's open the phones now. First to Battle Creek, Michigan. Ralph, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:24

    RALPHYes, hello. I was wondering if Sir Richard would give an opinion on the American financial system and our, you know, huge collapse. And does he have any recommendations or, you know, analysis on the health of the American financial system?

  • 11:40:46

    REHMAll right. Go right ahead, Sir Richard.

  • 11:40:50

    BRANSONWell, that's a heavy question.

  • 11:40:52

    REHMIt surely is.

  • 11:40:55

    BRANSON(laugh) The, look, I think the positive thing is that it could have been an absolute disaster. It could have been a 1929 crash. This government, I think, grasped it and got on top of it. And now America is one of the fastest growing countries in the world again. And hopefully, over the next couple of years, peoples' salaries will start going up and more and more people will be back in work. And America can help lead the way, lead the world out of the recession.

  • 11:41:40

    BRANSONAnd already doing quite a good job at it. And so, you know, so I think they did learn from the 1929 crash. And, you know, that was tremendous that they -- they learned from those lessons.

  • 11:41:50

    REHMAll right. And here's an email from Taylor. He says, my question is about not your successes, but your failings. Could you talk a little about the times you failed in your business ventures and how someone has helped you along the way. No one has ever been successful without some help.

  • 11:42:22

    BRANSONYeah. You're -- he's absolutely right. I mean, I think mentors are incredibly important for -- I'm just getting myself a cup of tea. It's very nice here.

  • 11:42:30

    REHMGood.

  • 11:42:31

    BRANSONVery English.

  • 11:42:32

    REHMGood.

  • 11:42:33

    BRANSONCheers. Nobody -- mentors are incredibly important for young business people when they set out. And, you know, I had a family friend who helped me with my accounts, because as I said earlier, I wasn't very good at adding up and subtracting. So, that was very useful. Our failures have generally come from when we've set up a business where we're not palpably better than our competition. You know, when Virgin Atlantic was attacked by British Airways, because we were so much better than them, we survived.

  • 11:42:58

    BRANSONAnd when Coca-Cola took on Virgin Cola, they beat us, because two cans of cola, there's not a lot of difference. And so, what we've learned from that is there's no point in us going into business unless we can be absolutely the best. And I think that applies to any small business that's going up against a big business. Make sure you've got something really unique about you and something really special about you.

  • 11:43:31

    REHMWere you disappointed when the cola failed?

  • 11:43:37

    BRANSONI haven't got time for disappointment. I have time -- we'll fight very hard to make something succeed. If something fails, we move straight on to the next thing. And I think I was born an optimist and I don't dwell on failure.

  • 11:43:50

    REHMSounds that way. Sounds as though you're an optimist. Here's an email from Elisabeth who says, I've come to resent the influence of the wealthy powerful groups on the issues of our times. But Sir Richard sounds like a decent fellow. I'd like to know his opinion on inequality and how he feels about the effects that people of his income bracket have on democracy.

  • 11:44:30

    BRANSONIt's a good question. I mean, I felt -- I feel very uncomfortable when I'm introduced as a billionaire. And I think that wealth, with wealth comes enormous responsibility. And, you know, I was never interested in becoming wealthy. I was interested in creating things I could be really proud of. And that's what I've set out to do in my life. And I think, once, with wealth, you, and every single entrepreneur in the world, I think, you need to get out there and adopt problems.

  • 11:45:04

    BRANSONIf we can help the social sector, if we can help government overcome the problems of the world, I think we can make a real positive difference. So, 99 percent -- well, not 99. 90 percent of my time is now spent on issues and trying to help solve issues in this world. Whether it's conflict issues in the world or whether it's the global war on drugs or whichever -- there are so many different issues that need to be, need to be addressed. And we'll use our public profile and our resources to try to tackle these issues.

  • 11:45:41

    BRANSONAs far as redistribution of wealth's concerned, I think that we've, you know, I think that the -- if people who are lucky enough, like myself, to make a lot of money, do not effectively redistribute it ourselves, then I think governments need to step in and do it for us. And I'm part of Bill Gates' giving pledge, where, you know, when I die, most of my wealth will go to good causes and charity. But, you know, but if not enough people join up to things like that, then I think government will need to intercede.

  • 11:46:20

    REHMTell me about your ideas on global war on drugs.

  • 11:46:28

    BRANSONWell, I mean, I'm part of something called the Global Drug Commission. Which consists of 10 ex-presidents. Kofi Annan, who used to be Secretary General of the United Nations, Paul Volcker and George Schultz from America. And we spent three years looking at the war on drugs to see whether it has good points or bad points. And pretty well, everything that we found out about it indicates that it's been an abject failure. If I'd had a business for 60 years that had failed for more than one year, I would have closed, I would have closed it down 59 years ago.

  • 11:47:07

    BRANSONSo, what we're recommending, as the global commission, is that the war on drugs should be treated as -- the drug problem should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem. If my children had a drug problem, I'd want them to be helped, not sent to prison. If my brothers and sisters had a health -- a drug problem, I'd want them to be helped, not sent to prison. Languishing in American prisons is something like 1.7 million people, 1.8 million people, many of them for drug related issues. And it's much cheaper to help those people and put them through drug clinics.

  • 11:47:45

    BRANSONAnd make them useful members of society again. So, the drug commission wants governments, worldwide, to decide not to lock anybody up, ever again, for taking any kind of drugs. And in the countries where they take that approach, like Portugal, they're getting on top of the drug problem and they're reducing the amount of people taking drugs. And it's been very successful.

  • 11:48:08

    REHMConsidering what is occurring in Africa right now, in regard to Ebola, and the concern throughout Europe and indeed in other parts of the world about the spread of Ebola, what would your thinking be as to how to address that problem? People are being locked up in their own homes. They're being forbidden from traveling because of this illness. What are your thoughts?

  • 11:48:52

    BRANSONWell, I mean, I know it's negative to say that this should never have got out of hand, but I think the World Health Organization should have acted much quicker and we should have thrown everything we had at this about four months ago. Every day that goes by, there's a danger that it's going to get more and more out of control and it's going to cost more and more money to rectify it and more and more lives are going to be lost. But what we should be doing is sending in hundreds of medical workers with all the equipment that they could possibly need and just doing the most concerted effort to try to get on top of the problem.

  • 11:49:39

    BRANSONAnd, you know, but I fear that we've actually left it very late and I'm surprised. Because, you know, we've always known that some kind of nasty disease was going to break out and, you know, I thought there were plans just to jump on this problem when, you know, when it happened.

  • 11:50:01

    REHMSo, considering the fact that the World Health Organization did not step in as quickly as it might have, perhaps because of a lack of resources on its own part, do you expect Ebola to spread worldwide?

  • 11:50:27

    BRANSONNo, I don't. I think it will devastate parts of Africa. It'll devastate the economy. I mean, for instance, wonderful people like Ray Chambers were getting on top of the problems of malaria, because, you know, people cannot, now, go and get their bed nets and get their medicine for malaria. I think malaria's in danger of spreading once again and is already spreading once again. And so, you know, people are not going there on holidays. Business is seizing up. I mean, it's a dreadful thing, just at the time when Africa was getting on its feet.

  • 11:51:06

    BRANSONI mean, it was growing by, you know, five or six percent a year. Most of the countries there. And it was becoming a great success. So anyway, I'm not a negative person. I think we've just got to move quickly now and spend whatever it takes to get on, to get on top of the problem so we can get back to seeing Africa growing again. And, you know, people living hopefully without the horrors of diseases upon them.

  • 11:51:33

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Curtis in Palm Coast, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 11:51:41

    CURTISGood morning.

  • 11:51:43

    BRANSONGood morning.

  • 11:51:43

    CURTISMiss Diane, long time listener and it's a pleasure and an honor to be speaking to you, Sir Richard. My question is with the onset of new technology, especially social media like Talkit, (sp?) Facebook, Twitter. What are the differences between becoming an entrepreneur now as it was when you became an entrepreneur back in the 60s?

  • 11:52:09

    BRANSONWell, back in the 60s, the word entrepreneur, I don't think, even existed. So, and obviously we didn't have, you know, tools like, you know, Twitter or Google or Facebook. So, I think that if you're going to be an entrepreneur today, you need to take these tools very seriously. I mean, I do and enjoy sort of tweeting and enjoy blogging and enjoy, you know, writing articles. And sort of see it like keeping a diary of my life and sharing it. And so, you know, if I'm campaigning on issues like the drug issue or conflict issues or global warming issues or whatever, you know, I've got an outlet.

  • 11:52:58

    BRANSONI don't have to rely on a limited number of newspapers that there are to get the message across. So, I think, embrace social media. You know, even if initially, you have only a few followers. It is going to be very important, as you build your business, to have it there to get feedback. And to take it very seriously.

  • 11:53:21

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sir Richard, you just mentioned conflict issues. And right now, we are seeing the growth of the group ISIS, or ISIL, with determination to attack Europeans, to attack America. What are your thoughts on that? Has the US, by virtue of its own position in the world, what can be done from our point of view, that you would support?

  • 11:54:12

    BRANSONWell, I don't like going back on history, but I think it's important just to look at history briefly here. And that is that, you know, in the same way that at the beginning of this program I said I was against the Vietnamese War and that it was, I think, a dreadful mistake. I think the original invasion of Iraq was a dreadful mistake, and that was committed by both the British government and the American government. And Saddam Hussein was not a nice person, but most of the leaders of countries in the Middle East are not that nice people.

  • 11:54:47

    BRANSONAnd to go in there, and to kill and maim hundreds of thousands of people, to throw out the Sunnis and put in the Shiites and think that you're going to solve the problem that way, it was never going to work. And it hasn't worked. And the Sunnis have resented the way they've been treated very much. So, we've now created our own nightmare. And you know, it's not a simple situation of some people have been good and some people have been bad. But, you know, I think, you know, what ISIS did in executing Americans and British people, in the way they did it, was going to bring the wrath of America and the allies down upon them.

  • 11:55:39

    BRANSONAnd, you know, I think they will ultimately get their comeuppance. But, you know, it's just very, very sad that we've actually managed to get ourselves into this situation in the first place.

  • 11:55:53

    REHMSo, at this point, you would support the US and its allies, its Arab, its European allies moving in, at least with bombs, to try to defeat ISIS.

  • 11:56:16

    BRANSONI think we have no choice but to support it, but it's -- you know, we have a wonderful organization called The Elders, which Nelson Mandela set up and which Kofi Annan now chairs. And The Elders go in to conflict regions and try to resolve conflicts. And there's one -- six wonderful men and women. People like Mary Robinson, Archbishop Tutu and others. And, you know, obviously, the key thing is to try to avoid conflict in the first place, so we went -- when, before the Iraq War, we'd actually arranged to have some of the elders go and see Saddam Hussein and try to get him to step down.

  • 11:57:04

    BRANSONAnd sadly, the bombings started the day that that meeting was to take place. So, we should do everything we can to try to avoid these conflicts.

  • 11:57:12

    REHMRichard Branson. Sir Richard Branson. His new book is titled, "The Virgin Way." A real pleasure to talk with you.

  • 11:57:26

    BRANSONThank you.

  • 11:57:27

    REHMThanks for joining me.

  • 11:57:29

    BRANSONThanks much.

  • 11:57:29

    REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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