HOW I DID IT

Richard Branson on His Love/Hate Relationship With Government

What Virgin Group's founder has learned about working with regulators.
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Sir Richard Branson repeatedly tops the list of the Inc. 500's most admired entrepreneurs. Unsure about a decision, founders ask themselves: What would Branson do? The answer is usually "the gutsy move." That's how Branson built Virgin Group, an enterprise with more than $24 billion in annual revenue, from a wide array of industries, including music and space travel. But, over the years, Branson's relationship with the government has shifted, he recently told Inc.

Recently, government has struggled with disruptive companies whose technologies or business models don't fit neatly into existing laws or regulations. We at Virgin have had our fair share of fights with the government. As long ago as 1977, Virgin Records went to court for displaying posters with the supposedly rude word bollocks to advertise the Sex Pistols' studio album. (We won.) As recently as 2012, the British Department for Transport tried to deny a bid by Virgin Trains to operate along an important line. (We won that one, too, thanks in part to an e-petition with more than 100,000 signatures.)

We have undertaken our most disruptive venture yet--to democratize space travel by building the world's first commercial space line. Private space enterprises like Virgin Galactic are standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before us--and government is right there, letting us prove ourselves with NASA contracts for science experiments. While we are injecting resources and talent and creating a market for space travel, government works alongside us to regulate in a way that does not stifle innovation and that prioritizes safety and the growth of a brand-new industry.

This collaborative partnership between innovators and regulators is sure to open up even more opportunities for enabling technologies to address environmental, health, education, economic, and transportation challenges back here on Earth. And the space example reminds us of the ideal life cycle of a truly disruptive initiative: first, getting its legs, in part with the help of government loans, contracts, and tax breaks; then, defiant in the face of growth-impeding restrictions; and, eventually, triumphant in making something as thrilling as space travel accessible to all.

Previously in Inc.: Richard Branson was on the cover in April 2005 as one of the "Entrepreneurs We Love." He appeared on the cover again in November 2012 ("Why the World Needs Big Ideas").

 

IMAGE: Redux
From the July-August 2014 issue of Inc. magazine




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