For as long as I can remember, my answer to that popular question, “whom would you like to have dinner with - present or past,” has been Sir Richard Branson. Like many, I’ve admired Richard for his authenticity, creativity, resiliency, generosity, pushing the limits of what’s possible and focus on family and fun. So, when the opportunity presented itself to spend four days on Necker Island – his private island in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) - with a group of 50 global entrepreneurs, I swiftly jumped onboard.
And what I had envisioned being a chance encounter with Richard during our stay, turned into not four, but five powerful days of life-changing conversations, competitive tennis matches, fuzzy lemur cuddles, cool ice baths, steep mountain hikes, tropical storm weathering and more with an incredible global entrepreneur community, side by side with the generous and inspiring man I’ve respected from afar since my early days of entrepreneurship.
While I cannot completely articulate all I learned below, I’m honored to share a few key takeaways and reminders. Perhaps they can serve as a gentle nudge or thought starter for you today. And if not, I hope you enjoy a little of what I experienced anyway.
1. It Starts with YOU. During our first Q&A panel, Richard brought up the concept of optimizing oneself before focusing our energy outwardly. The idea is that we must first get ourselves into our best mental, physical and spiritual shape, and draw a complete circle around us – as individuals - prior to focusing our energy on others.
The truth is, we cannot optimally support our families, businesses, communities, or the world if we are not performing at our highest level or potential. The more honest and aware we are of ourselves, the more we can change the world externally for the better.
2. When the Climb is Steep, Focus on the Ground in Front of You. On day three (of the world’s best trip), Richard took our group over to Virgin Gorda, a partially mountainous island located 20 minutes by boat from Necker. Our mission – if we chose to accept it – was to bike or hike to the top, a trip that could take up to one and a half hours. As we readied for an uphill battle, Richard pointed to our destination at the peak. And while some of us were picking up our mouths off the floor, he casually advised us to focus on the ground directly in front and not to keep looking at the destination.
By taking on small goals at a time, we made it to the top – sweaty and exhausted, but also exhilarated. And such is life and our approach to obstacles. Too often we get overwhelmed by lofty goals or mountains of work – but we can tackle it all, one step at a time by focusing on what’s directly in front of us.
3. Reputation is All We Have – Make Sure It’s One You Are Proud of. As someone who prioritizes character over job titles - and as a PR professional, naturally - my ears perk up any time reputation discussions surface. On Necker, we chatted about its relevance in a handful of sidebar conversations.
As Richard put it eloquently, “You have one life and one reputation so make sure it’s one you – and one your family – are proud of.” Indeed. There’s no shortage of instances where reputation gets compromised due to one’s actions or words. Yes, authenticity is key and so is considering our behavior, language, attitude and the way we treat one another in building and maintaining a strong, positive reputation.
4. Be Kind and Keep Your Word. If you’ve seen Rebel Billionaire, a reality show Richard hosted a few years back, you may recall a scene where he disguised himself as an older taxi driver to take contestants to their destination. And you may also remember him sending some contestants home for mistreating who they thought was “just” a taxi driver.
We spoke quite a bit about the importance of kindness and ways it can positively impact people and communities at no cost. Similarly, keeping your word is critical – if you make a promise, keep it; otherwise, trust and your reputation will both be compromised.
5. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Luck. Those who read ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’ may recall Richard’s story about his purchase of Necker Island when he was in his 20s. At the time, he had founded Virgin Records and subsequently visited the BVIs.
I was inspired by his island acquisition story and asked about it during that first day panel on Necker. I was curious if that fortunate purchase was a lesson in negotiation, determination, manifestation or something else and was surprised when he stressed the impact of luck in that deal. He discussed his outlook on luck and the role it played throughout his life, including on his many adventures. And yes, success is a combination of hard work and luck. I learned that, while we cannot rely on it solely, we also shouldn’t discount the power and presence of luck, especially when we may need it the most.
In addition to the above, we all discussed the importance of movement, philanthropy, having fun, global mindset, space travel and more with Richard during those magical days on Necker. We also contributed our time and ideas to Virgin Unite, Virgin’s non-profit arm. And, thanks to Tropical Storm Philippe, we had an extra day on the island to connect and be further inspired.
Prior to heading to the island, I noted this was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience and perhaps it was. But I’d rather consider this trip to be a ‘first-of-a-lifetime experience’ and look forward to someday having another opportunity to experience the magic of Necker and learn more valuable lessons. Perhaps some of you reading this can join me.