Entrepreneurs

This is what motivates billionaire Richard Branson (Hint: It's not money)

Richard Branson is a fantastic financial success. He's currently worth more than $5 billion, according to Forbes.

Though he has amassed tremendous wealth over his career, the 67-year old British entrepreneur says he didn't set out seeking wealth.

"I have never been motivated by making money," Branson tells CNBC's "Squawk Box" Wednesday.

He's aware his perspective is surprising for many to hear, particularly in the United States.

"I know in America, people are fairly fixated on money, billionaires, millionaires and so on. I'm not," Branson tells CNBC Make It.

"What I love doing is creating things I can be proud of, and if you create things that you can be proud of, the byproduct of that can be that you become a millionaire or you become a billionaire, because people like what you've created."

Sir Richard Branson.
Cameron Costa | CNBC
Sir Richard Branson.

Branson started his career as an entrepreneur early. He dropped out of high school and launched a magazine for students when he was 16. Then, in his early 20s, Branson started and grew an independent record store, Virgin Records, which according to him, was the most successful independent record company in the world at that time.

"I realized that most likely I was financially secure, but that financial security then enabled me to go on to do airlines and lots of other businesses and make a difference to people's lives in other areas," Branson tells CNBC Make It.

Branson launched a film company, an airline company, a soda company, a cosmetic company and a space company, to name a few. Today, the Virgin Group includes more than 60 businesses that serve more than 50 million customers around the world.

"I know in America, people are fairly fixated on money, billionaires, millionaires and so on. I'm not." -Richard Branson, billionaire entrepreneur

But Branson says he's never even done a business plan for any of his companies. "You can go to one set of accountants and they will tell you why you are going to make money and another one will tell you how you are going to lose money," says Branson on "Squawk Box."

"You have just got to create the best airline or the best train company or the best health clubs or the best mobile phone company and then if it is the best, then at the end of the year more money will come in than goes out," he says.

Branson's attitude toward money doesn't always align with the more fiscially conscientious members of his company.

"I am Dr. Yes and sometimes [my executives] give me a reason why maybe I am getting a bit too enthusiastic on occasions. Ultimately though, the buck stops with me and sometimes I will say, 'well, screw it let's do it. I don't care about what the figures say, we will prove them wrong,'" says Branson on "Squawk Box."

"I have been motivated by creating products that make a real difference in the world and in people's lives," he says.

Apple CEO Tim Cook advocates for a similar approach to building your career.

"My advice to all of you is, don't work for money — it will wear out fast, or you'll never make enough and you will never be happy, one or the other," Cook told an audience full of college students in February.

"You have to find the intersection of doing something you're passionate about and, at the same time, something that is in the service of other people," according to Cook, who made the remarks after receiving an honorary degree from The University of Glasgow on Wednesday. "I would argue that, if you don't find that intersection, you're not going to be very happy in life."

In addition to being fulfilling, pursuing a goal beyond becoming rich is a defining characteristic of powerful leaders, according to to Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, top-rated professor at Wharton business school and author of The New York Times best-selling books "Originals" and "Option B."

"One of the things that stands out for me when I think about what distinguishes the greatest leaders of our time, is that success is very rarely a goal for them, it's a byproduct of other goals that they have," Grant told CNBC Make It earlier this year.

Branson seems to agree: "The end result of that is that if you create something exceptional, it actually ends up being something very valuable."

See also:

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'Don't work for money ... you will never be happy'

This is the No. 1 trait of great leaders, says a Wharton professor who's studied thousands of executives

Billionaire Richard Branson weighs in on free cash handouts—there's a 'real danger' tech will replace jobs