Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life And Business

– Richard Branson
Genre – Management, Self-Help, Autobiography

Sir Richard Branson is one of my few role-models in business. Consider his life:

  • One of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, with a personal net worth of US$5bn. Started Virgin Group which has 50,000 employees now. Owns an island (Necker Island near Florida, US).
  • Born to a rather poor village household, suffered from dyslexia (reading disorder) as a kid and yet overcame it all to be so successful. His first venture, Student magazine, was launched when he was sixteen and a school drop-out.
  • Very cerebral, has written half a dozen books, almost all of them best sellers. And a morning reader like Bill Gates.
  • Adventurist to the core. First human to cross Atlantic Ocean on a Hot Air Balloon. Also won the prize for fastest ocean crossing on a boat. In both attempts, had multiple near death experiences, but persevered.
  • Highly conscious of his social responsibility. Started Group of Elders (with Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and other luminaries) to remove politics from policy and give wise advice to the world.
  • A maverick who sets his own rules. Will often come in the media in ‘inappropriate’ poses (e.g. hung from a crane at Times Square apparently naked to publicize the ‘nothing-to-hide’ costs of Virgin Mobile).

Take a bow to the sheer magnitude of his vast, multi-dimensional successes. Corporate successes often lack academic intellect just as those with a love of books generally lack financial acumen. The few who manage both are sadly too dry or elitist. And life threatening adventure to boot? Hats off to the brilliance and audacity of this man!

So, when such a man tries to condense his life’s lessons – ideas and secrets of his success – in a short book, we all need to queue up and imbibe every page. Branson chronicles the early childhood lessons he learnt from his mother. In the world war, she wanted to be a pilot but in that era only men could become pilots. So, she disguised herself as a man, learnt flying and became a very successful pilot and training instructor. A thoroughly can do attitude which gives Branson the title of this book (Branson himself his known as Dr. Yes for his positive attitude and default yes to most ideas). He also chronicles how he himself dropped out from school to start his first venture, Student magazine, and we will all marvel on how a kid can achieve so much with so limited resources.

He outlines his efforts to first win the America-Ireland boat contest and then fly in a balloon over Atlantic. In both attempts, the first 1-2 times he fails and almost dies. But continues and eventually succeeds handsomely. Lot of lessons for today’s youth on thinking big, collaborating with experts, gaining knowledge and not stopping till the goal is achieved.

His other big lesson is Do No Harm. He shows how his first attempt to cheat ended up in jail, and he realized it is not worth it to try and do something unethical. He also gives multiple examples of how family and friends are the rock behind one’s success. Money is important because it helps get things done, but beyond that we all eat only one lunch and one dinner!

He talks a lot on Sex appeal and using it to create a lasting brand image. And having fun at work. At 66, and as Chairman of one of the world’s largest private companies, he still wears rugged jeans to work. And has never really worn a tie (in fact physically cuts the ties of people around him!). We have one life which needs to be lived fully.

He also talks a lot on Gaia Capitalism, the concept that Mother Earth and all living and non-living organisms are connected. He has partnered with Al Gore against global warming, deforestation (amazon rainforests are like the lungs to our planet giving us 20% of our oxygen), CO2 emissions and other pertinent issues.

Richard Branson, with his contrarian views and hunger for publicity, is not for everyone. He himself says that the PR gives his group much-needed brand awareness at very low cost. Read also about how his wife-swapping experiment with a musician couple in the swinging 60s cost him his first wife! Learning from that (what he considered fun, his wife took as lack of commitment), he has been married to his second wife for 28 years now. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. [People may find this book a little all over the place, and I wish Branson had done a better job in distilling his life’s lessons.]

Why should you read the book: To learn and be inspired from an absolute genius. In my little way, I try to emulate his successes: trying to make it strong in the corporate world as a CFO; but finding the times to read and write and teach; and do a lot of adventures like skydiving, bungee jumping, snake handling or Everest base camp trekking; and never forgetting about helping the world through Elements or P&G Alumni Foundation. On the rare occasions when I do feel enervated, I simply open up one of his books and remember humbly that what we are doing is but a small drop in a very big ocean. Read his autobiography (Losing My Virginity) too. Both books fill us with a euphoria and a can-do attitude.