He has striven for space, and swam with whales; has climbed the tallest mountains, and reached out to the neediest in the world. He has built successful business after business always with a focus on customers, and seen his competition crumble when he was considered the underdog. And now, Sir Richard Branson has soared again, this time with the audience attending the 2016 Sage Summit in Chicago.
After a drum beating, high energy introduction in which Sage CEO, Stephen Kelly welcomed the thousands in attendance, and focused on Sage's desire to ignite the passions of entrepreneurs as the world's economic engine, Kelly introduced the summit's first headliner, and headliner he was.
Sir Richard Branson is an English entrepreneur, adventurist, and philanthropist who founded the Virgin Group, which encompasses 400+ companies. From humble beginnings with first a dad, and then mother, who ran a small 'tea shop' in south England, Sir Richard learned the importance of hard work, dedication and customer satisfaction.
His first business venture, at age 15 was a small publication that focused on allowing people to voice their opinions 'in the press' even though those opinions were contrary to the 'press of the day' and political standing. By 1970 he had started a mail order record business that quickly expanded into a chain or record stores called Virgin Records, which later would become the Virgin Records music label with such stars as the Rolling Stones, and countless others.
Sir Richard told the story about how he began Virgin Atlantic Airlines while attempting to catch a flight from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands. When American Airlines advised he and other passengers on a flight that the trip was cancelled due to low passenger volume, he chartered a plane at the airport and sold tickets to the other passengers who didn't want to wait around. A few days later he contacted Boeing and secured a reconditioned Boeing 747 jet with which to officially start a new airline. Many of the airlines that were his competition at the time, like Pan Am and Eastern, have flown into oblivion because they failed to focus on customer appeal and satisfaction, as well as sound business principles.
But not everything in Sir Richard's life or career has been sunshine, when asked by Kelly about his 'darkest day', the visionary told the audience that had to be the October 31, 2015 crash of his Virgin Galactic Spaceship due to co-pilot error. While the crash put his quest for space on hold for a short time, and has created the set back of construction of a new spaceship, the project continues toward being the first commercial space flight service to offer anyone the chance to travel into space. A countless number of individuals attending Sage clapped loudly when Sir Richard asked the audience how many of them would want to go into space if they could. Virgin Galactic is just another 'quest' for a man who seems to have an endless number of even greater quests still ahead of him.
Among those greater quests is Virgin Unite which is focused on giving back through a series of charitable focuses. With a theme of never accepting the unacceptable, Sir Richard founded the non-profit foundation in 2004 to unite people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world. Since that time, Virgin Unite, together with its many partners, has incubated a number of collaborations including: the Elders, Oceans Unite, the Carbon War Room, the B Team and the Branson Center for Entrepreneurship.
Sir Richard was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in March of 2000 at Buckingham Palace for 'services to entrepreneurship'. He must have therefore made as much of an 'entrepreneurial impression' upon the Queen as he did this year’s Sage Summit.