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‘Screw it, Just do it!’

Life advice from the rebel billionaire

HE’S THE MAN Life lessons from Richard Branson

HE’S THE MAN Life lessons from Richard Branson


On a rainy day, I went home thinking about my life and the decisions that I was about to make. After listening to Sir Richard Branson who came to Manila recently to share his experiences and advice to businessmen, entrepreneurs, and fellow dreamers, I felt the need to reevaluate how I do business and try to understand how this man became so successful.

As I was eagerly waiting for the founder of the Virgin group of companies to take the stage, the man beside asked, “Are you a big fan of Richard Branson?” I said, “Yes, I am excited to hear him speak.” He asked me why and I replied, “I want to know how he was able to run so many companies and how he succeeded in handling all of them.” This was the main question in my head but I ended up with more advice than I expected.

Here are some lessons I learned from Richard Branson:


‘If you have a business idea and your idea is going to have a positive impact, pursue it.’

Branson shared his advice on the importance of education and pursuing the entrepreneurial path. He said that if you’re 16 and you know what you want to do, pursue it; but if you don’t, education is a good fall back. Not everyone will agree to that especially in a country like the Philippines where we have such high regard to college education.

He quit school and started a magazine when he was 16. He eventually founded Virgin Records, which later on was expanded into the airline business. His story about how he got into the airline industry was bizarre and yet made sense. Business stems from a certain kind of frustration.Trying to find solutions to a problem or need is always a good opportunity.

He was in Puerto Rico and was off to meet his date in the British Virgin Islands. His flight got postponed until the following day and determined as he was, he decided to rent a plane. He held a placard and charged people for a minimal amount then filled up his first plane. He realized that there was a need for cheaper flights and better service in this industry and decided to call Boeing to check if they had second hand aircrafts—and the rest is history.

When my son was seven, he came home with a warning slip from school. My cousin gave him bags of lollipops and he brought them to school. Sweets like candy and gum were not allowed, but it wasn’t just that: “Your son brought lollipops and sold them for 10 pesos each. Two offenses in one day, bringing sweets and selling in school.” Vince was about to cry when he handed me that slip. I tried to keep a stern face and told him not to do it again but I also could not help myself and ended up laughing with him. That day gave me a sense of pride knowing that I was raising a future entrepreneur.

Today, I tried to recall all of the jobs I took and the ventures I have done on my own. I had my first paying job when I was 14. I was a volleyball instructor for some smart kids in our school that needed to pass physical education. A parent asked if I could teach her kids then I just went for it. After that, I worked during my summers instead of taking vacations and dove into every opportunity I got when I was in college from joining bazaars and selling baked goods, Indian jewelry, and books into having my own shawarma stall. I learned different kinds of skill sets and more than the money, that was the gain that I valued more.

I have now started asking myself, “Have the things I created a positive impact in other people’s lives?” Branson reminded me that once your needs are met, business transcends into the needs of others.


‘Every business is a force of good; improving other people’s lives.’ 

Branson spends most of his time now with Virgin Unite, a non-profit organization which aims to build a better world through uniting people and ideas. This has sprouted different collaborations such as The Elders which was led by Nelson Mandela to work on peace, conflict resolution, and human rights; Ocean Unite which focuses on the protection of marine life; The B Team, a group of business leaders who share the belief that businesses that are only for profit should transition into a business about the wellbeing of people and the planet; and many more.

I have been active in social work since I was in high school and it seems like it is a never ending struggle. Which problem do we try to solve first? Hunger? Global warming? Injustice? Branson mentioned that entrepreneurs are important because they create jobs. When we are able to make more than what we need and provide for the people who work for us, we should start looking outward. When asked “How do you select an advocacy?” His advice was to look for problems in your local area. Look at your surroundings. When you are able to contribute to fixing that problem, eventually it will grow into a national scale or even an international one.


‘When business leaders don’t bribe public officials, public officials won’t ask for bribes.’

Branson expressed that in 50 years of doing business, it never crossed his mind to bribe someone to get what he needed. If business leaders don’t bribe, it ends the cycle of corruption because public officials will stop asking for it. After hearing this, I felt a little bit of hope. I often hear from businessmen both local and foreign that if you do things clean, they (pertaining to government agencies) will always find holes to make things harder.

When you graduate from university, you have this sense of optimism and idealism. For me, all those hours studying design, physics, math, business ethics, different laws and codes are still fresh then you start walking down the street and observe homes not having proper easements or commercial buildings that violated some parts of the fire code, this idealism gets crushed in instant as you go out into the real world. I often ask myself, “How do they get away with this?”

A businessman once told me that because of the way I think, I will not survive doing business in the Philippines. “You live in a third world country. Your idealism does not apply here.” How do you swallow that?

I was in West Africa when a woman in a military uniform with a gun pulled us over in the middle of nowhere. We rolled the window down and the woman asked, “Do you have something for me?” My host gave her some money and we went on our way. It was like a normal everyday thing. He explained how little these people earn that’s why they resort into this kind of behavior. Do we throw in the towel and accept status quo?


‘One day I’ll go to space’

In a room of 700, Branson asked, “Who wants to go outer space?” A lot of us raised our hands. Who doesn’t want to go outer space?

Richard Branson has sparked the dreamer in me. “My most common dream is to flap my wings and fly.” He mentioned that there have only been 500 people who have been in space and now, he is finding ways to create commercial space travel available. In doing this, he is defying limits. He is also creating more satellites to connect the rest of the world.

When did you last dream like a kid? When was the last time the you believed that anything is possible? At the growth rate of technology, I feel that anything is possible. I know that in this lifetime, I will ride the Virgin Galactic and be able to be closer to the stars and see the Earth from above. Don’t stop dreaming!


‘As a leader, you should be full of praise for people and rarely criticize. You have to be a good listener. Before you make a decision, listen, listen, listen.’

Branson’s mother played a key role in molding him into the leader he is today. He said that when he criticized, his mum would make him stand in front of the mirror and say, “What you see in others, you see in yourself.”

We often criticize and forget how words may affect another person. My father, Master Choa Kok Sui, founder of modern Pranic healing, used to say that before you criticize, give five compliments to the person first. By that time, you would not even think about criticizing anymore. As parents who need to discipline our kids, are we able to use words that encourage instead of harming their fragile egos?

As an athlete, there were times wherein I could not enjoy the glory of winning anymore. Even when I had the gold medal in my hands, it was always the drive for perfection that ruined the moment. “I should have done this better, the timing was off.” This also reflected on my leadership that instead of looking at the bigger picture. It is not a bad thing to strive for perfection but it is important to change the mindset on how to deal with it. As leaders, we should inspire and find ways to improve a situation.


‘The best run companies are run by people who genuinely care for all the people working for them.’

In the Virgin group, the employees do not need to ask permission to take leaves. Some work at home and can take as many holidays as they liked. He wanted people to go to work in that happy atmosphere. “We get out of our way to make sure that the people who work for our companies are happy to work there,” said Branson.

In the office, I try to find ways to motivate the people and give them a better working environment and at times I feel like I’ve failed in this. Wouldn’t it be nice for them to be able to spend more time with their families instead of hours of commute, work at home more often and take more leaves? I am still left with the dilemma of how do I make the company profitable and make sure everyone’s happy. This will be something worth brainstorming about.


‘I work hard and play hard, too!’

I used to feel guilty for going on vacations. I felt that there was so much to do and three days of not doing anything may be catastrophic. Now, people often ask me what I do and how I can afford to take time away all the time. People sometimes think I don’t work because that’s what they see on Facebook and Instagram. Social media only shows a portion of our lives ,and who wants to see a picture of my work desk all the time? Work will always be there. The world is not going to end if you take a day off.


‘The most important thing in our lives is our own fitness and our family’s fitness.’

Branson plays tennis in mornings and evenings. He enjoys kite surfing and living a healthy lifestyle. For a man running billion dollar companies to still have time to exercise, we should be able to do it as well.

As leaders, businessmen, workers, parents, teachers, students and dreamers, I leave you with this thought. Death is inevitable and in the end what mark are we leaving in this world?

The session ended and I still had some questions that I wanted to ask Richard Branson. “Will you ever retire? When do you know when it is time to stop? How do you choose the right people to continue your vision and legacy?” I guess these are things I have to answer for myself but I left there knowing that I am ready to take the risk into my new venture. I may succeed or I may fail but the only way to find out is to go for it.