Sir Richard Branson is the entrepreneur's entrepreneur. He started his first business at the tender age of 16, launching Student magazine in 1966. Since then, he's created more than 400 companies across disparate industries, from music to stem cell banking, nightclubs to trains. He's the poster boy for entrepreneurial vigour, having overcome dyslexia and crippling shyness to become one of the world's most vaunted writers and speakers.
Ask any budding businessman to name a role model and Branson will doubtless be in the top three. He has amassed a fortune worth an estimated US$4.6bn and, at the age of 63, is still launching new projects. These days, he is using his entrepreneurial nous to solve complex socioeconomic problems, rather than just running businesses. Having carved a successful career taking on industry incumbents as a challenger brand, he is not cowed by the insurmountable or politically charged issues of the day.
"I have always wanted the opportunity to make a difference and I believe that a successful entrepreneur's mission should be about making people's lives better," he explains. "I believe that entrepreneurs can focus their problem-solving minds on larger social issues and come up with workable solutions that utilise their business skills."
The entrepreneur has always thrown himself wholeheartedly into causes. Sometimes these are political or environmental, other times he shakes up the status quo by offering people a radical alternative to the products or services they have been used to. The urge to challenge outdated models has been in him since he was a child, he says. "When I was a young boy, I wanted to change the world. I left school at 15 to start a magazine to campaign to stop the Vietnamese war, so looking back I think I was definitely born with a bit of ambition and entrepreneurial spirit."
Sir Richard's call to arms for today's young entrepreneurs is to follow in his footsteps, failures and all. "Young entrepreneurs need to be encouraged to be brave and to not be afraid or ashamed of failure," he says. "Ask successful business men or women today and they will have all experienced failure at some point. They will tell you it made them the business person they are today."
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