The first half of the book was, to me, much more enjoyable than the second half because it’s very candid and personal. He talks a lot about himself and his lifestyle very openly: the girls, the fun, the drugs, the struggles, the mistakes. He also gives a lot of insight into his upbringing and this gives one a much better idea of why he grew up to be the person he is. Not just success-wise but with regards to his values and views on life. In fact, it reads a little like a novel, which is a good thing. The second half of the book is largely covered in Business Stripped Bare, it is much more business-like and it’s less about his life and more about his ideas and his businesses.
Lots of people have this impression that Richard Branson has been rolling in cash for the last thirty plus years. This is not the impression I get from reading this book. Any excess cash in the early days was invested in new ventures such that the Branson Businesses were always operating on a tight rope. Bankers immediately wanted their money back whenever there was so much as the rumor of trouble. Myopic bankers refused to fund Branson beyond rigid limits because they really couldn’t see where his vision was going to take the enterprises. Competing companies (notably British Airways) used every dirty trick in the book to derail any progress.
Some highlights from the book:
“My parents always treated my two sisters, Lindi and Vanessa, and me as equals whose opinions were just as valid as theirs.” Ditto. It’s a little strange for a Malawian child to say this but I can definitely relate to this. My parents have been treating me like an adult with valid opinions from day zero and I think that has completely influenced the way I manage to interact with people who are much older and have achieved much more than I have.
“My parents always encouraged us to have our own opinions and rarely gave us advice unless we asked for it.” I like this. Personally, my parents always gave advice but they always followed that up with the statement, I can give you advice but you don’t have to take it. I frequently chose not to take it because you know what? I thought I knew better!
“When I get an idea it has to come out, it is like being sick, a bodily action.” I’ve never heard it put like that before but I like! RB is very fortunate to have been in the position whereby he could actually action his ideas. It takes a lot of guts and nerve of course but this line got me thinking, how many poor villagers in Africa and elsewhere have a burning desire to action a plan but completely no resources to do it?
“My parents had always drilled into me that the best motto to follow is ’Nothing ventured, nothing gained’.” That’s a great motto to be brought up on, don’t you think? This might be the reason why the guy always gives it a stab, whatever ‘it’ is at that point in time. Many of us would be so overcome with all the things that could wrong that the idea would remain just that, an idea.
I love the passion that Richard Branson has for Africa. However, his focus has so far been on South Africa which is rich compared to many other African countries. I wonder what he would think if he came to a place like Malawi. We look upon our wealthy South African cousins with awe and doubt as to whether we will ever reach a similar state of development. As poor as they might be, we are much much poorer and I think we would benefit from some input from Mr Branson. I don’t blame him for not having come through though, the business environment is not good at all and the Government needs to work hard to change that. If you can’t even buy a tank of fuel to drive around town where does a foreign investor start?
Cons? There is a little too much detail in some areas; for instance, the many hot air balloon trips. At first, I thought there was also too much stuff on outer space. Who cares? I thought but when I started getting into it I thought there was some very valid information e.g. the potential to live in outer space if earth was for any reason uninhabitable or even the potential to use resources from outer space as energy sources that will take away our dependence on crude oil.
One question remains in my mind: does Richard Branson really relate as well to celebrities as he does to the common man? I got the impression that he does or at least he used to (he’s a lot less exposed to commoners now) and I would really like to know more about this.
There are many other things to be gained from reading Losing My Virginity. Get a copy.
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