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CNBC Interview with Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group & Chairman, Virgin Hyperloop One and Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman & CEO, DP World


Below is the transcript of an interview with CNBC's Middle East anchor, Hadley Gamble and Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group & Chairman, Virgin Hyperloop One and Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Group Chairman & CEO, DP World

Hadley: Sultan, Richard thank you so much for joining CNBC. Now you have just had a very exciting announcement DP World Cargo speed Sultan, what is DP World Cargo Speed?

Sultan: It is the future of cargo basically. The idea is how do we move cargo with air speed at the price of land speed or land transportation, this is the ultimate and this is the future and DP World as an enabler of trade we are concerned all the time about how do we move things faster, more efficiently and become enablers in logistics for the intermodal trade and then we are adding another intermodal method which is the cargo speed. 2

Hadley: Sir Richard, when you think about what is happening in the transportation space globally there are a lot of worries about potential trade wars about the rhetoric between world leaders what is something that you think could move a cloud into that space?

Branson: Well I do think that the Virgin Hyperloop can play a big role. I mean the reason I became Chairman and Sultan and the others they asked if I would you know come out and be Chairman of this company which actually I haven't been Chairman of a company for some time and I have let other people do it was because I found this ridiculously exciting I think that if we can build Virgin hyperloops in quite a number of different countries connecting countries and maybe Saudi to the Emirates or India to Pakistan or wherever, that will bring the world much closer and when you are talking about the pods going at about 6, 7, 800 miles an hour, both with people and with cargo that is tremenduously exciting it means that people can avoid the misery of sitting in traffic jams for 2 hours going one way and 2 hours going another way they can jump in a pod and from a freight point of view, it is fantastically exciting which is why you know we are doing this announcement today.

Hadley: Talk to me a little bit about what this means going forward. In terms of that speed, the timeline for putting this all together because what you are trying to do as well isn't it is keep up with the changing nature of consumers right. But if you have to put this on a timeline which is years to get this done and billions to spend, isn't there the fear or the worry that you will have a changed consumer by the time you get it all done?

Branson: Well we are going to be breaking ground in India in months. We are going to be breaking ground in other countries which we will be announcing in months so I think we are talking 2 to 3 years away. We are not talking about many years away and my children and my grandchildren are going to want the same things as I'm going to want. They are going to want to be able to get to places quickly they are not going to want to sit in traffic jams and they are going to want their Amazon packages that come from America now and so think these things can happen quite quickly.

Sultan: Well the cargo speed or even the passenger speed is really selling time. That is what we are selling. We are selling time people don't want to stay in place. Another interesting thing I think is the construction of this is non-invasive when you come in a city because if you build a train, you have to build a bridge on top of it. But this is a simple construction. A tube that everything can go under or over and people wouldn't even notice the high speed train is going through because this is using magnetic cushion which means there is no friction, there is no noise and things can be moving from one place to another. And it is environmentally friendly, there is no emission. And imagine just how many tonnes and tonnes carbon monoxide you are going to save by people using this light of speed. So you talk to me about anywhere in the world actually today and instead of days will be maximum from end to end and anywhere in the world, 48 hours. So from China to Europe could be 10 to 12 hours. This is basically light of speed at affordable prices when you compare technology. ]
Hadley: Talk to me a little bit about the security. How do you plan to secure the Hyperloop because this is something that oil pipeline space, people who are worried about security concerns particularly across the region, what are you planning to do to keep this secure?

Sultan: I believe this is no different than having a train but this is actually better security because nobody can put anything in it because in a tube once the door is closed, nothing can come in and it is very easy to scan and to make sure that whatever goes in there, is safe. But once it is closed, the door, it is like an airplane. So I believe security wise security wise this will be much more secure than train or trucks or anything and also when you talk about smuggling the problem with the train is that it enters cities it has to stop in case something has been added or brought in or smuggled in this will go through borders faster, easier and more secure.

Branson: And you don't need passports when you go through borders because nobody is getting off. I'll just give you a quick taste of what is going to happen if you say take 2 airports let's say they are 70km apart from each other and you connect them with a Virgin hyperloop you know so you arrive at one airport and your connection is 70 miles away from the other airport. It is going to take you 6 minutes to get straight there. No customs, no passports and then the pod you can get in the JFK pod, it will go straight to the JFK gate, with your baggage which will then go straight on the plane. Another pod will go straight to another gate, the cargo will go straight to the plane, so you don't then have the 2 hours since you are going through the airpod and all the misery that that causes so you know it is a futuristic world that we are talking about, a really exciting futuristic world.

Hadley: And you saying this will make things actually more secure?

Branson: Much more secure.

Sultan: Absolutely. And so in reality, one of the biggest I think headache for people is really going through airports and the waiting and the long time it takes and the security it is a nightmare to go through before. But as Richard has explained you basically enjoy as if you are flying a private plane. Because you can go from wherever you are in the city, in your pod and this pod will go to each gate this is a game changer on the air transportation which will make it much easier for the passengers and the airport company. Because airport companies would be increasing the number of people flying with airplanes that carry 540 passengers, there is a limit to how much they can expand. This is a solution to a problem that is coming to become difficult.

Hadley: So there are a lot of hyperloop technologies floating around. What makes this one different?

Branson: Let me say why I became Chairman of this particular company. And whether we actually keep the name hyperloop is something we are questioning because I think this company is way ahead of all the others. The reason I joined is because there is a brilliant person called Josh Giegel who is the engineer the genius behind it who got 200 engineers together and they have created something completely unique something that goes faster than anybody else, something that we believe will be a lot safer than anybody else and they are way ahead of anybody else. So we are proud to put the Virgin brand on it and you know we have to…the proof will be in the pudding and i think that we will get the main contracts, we will deliver fantastic service and I think Virgin Hyperloop will build that around the world.

Sultan: The interesting thing for us when we started is really how advanced the technology developed since we started. For example in the beginning the idea was when we looked at first that containers would be traveling and then passenger so they'll have a loop for passenger a loop for cargo. Now we're developed in such a way that actually the same loop the same path will carry a pod with passengers will carry another pod with cargo. This is if you think about it just like the airlines, the airline carries passengers and the airline carries cargo. This is really very appealing to us as people in the cargo business not necessarily we're going to have pods for cargo this loop is coming anyway. That is efficiency and cost effective when you're building something only for cargo can be cargo as well as passenger. Now this is very interesting for us. The other thing is also why we've been studying this from the cargo side we were faced with an interesting challenge. How do you put a container every six seconds in a loop? Which Hyperloop technology is good at putting the loop but to put it from the ship in six seconds is a different thing. And it took us a year and a half as DP World to come up with an idea that we learned a new technology created by us at DP World to allow us to do that which is a by product of joining the technology with Hyperloop. So now today we can be 500 percent more efficient in a terminal. And that idea is being going to be implemented in our terminal. So this is something we learned from the challenge of having to put every 6 seconds apart. The beauty of this technology also is that trains do stop in stations. But this one no pod stops if there is a divergent to an airport, all of them are continue and the one to divert will just go and everybody will continue in their way. And that is the beauty of the console the technology people Josh and his team are very bright people that come up with ideas advanced so I don't care really who says oh I have an idea of hyperloop. Maybe it's an idea seven years old but I am sure it is not the idea that we have today where we have invested a lot of money and we develop and perfect it.

Hadley: You mentioned that you had thought about potentially changing the Hyperloop name. Is that because you think that branding and brand allegiance is changing with the changing consumer. I mean is brand allegiance essentially dead in some ways?

Branson: I think that the Virgin brand is quite a strong brand and it's been around for 50 years. And I think that's the key differentiator perhaps than than that with the other Hyperloop brands. But you know I personally feel that this particular concept has got so many so many different factors from the others the technology which we obviously can't reveal. But you know it is so exciting that it deserves it most likely deserves a new brand a new name. And it's something which we're seriously going to consider and maybe we'll be doing another interview a few weeks time.

Hadley: Fantastic. Talk me through a little bit about why Dubai. Why do you find Dubai so particularly exciting when it comes to brand awareness and the ability to be creative and different?

Branson: Dubai are open to new things. I mean they want to be the first the first in the world with anything exciting and new. And there's nothing more exciting than Virgin Hyperloop. So we're a marriage made in heaven. And you know the fact that the ruler of Dubai is coming here to the QE2 today says a lot about this man Sultan. Also I think it says a lot about the whole concept and how excited Dubai are about what the Virgin hyperloop is working on and doing.

Hadley: Sultan give me a little bit about.. You've had the interest in bringing the QE2 here which is an icon of really British past but also obviously you're very interested in technology and moving the story forward as well. How do you how do you kind of bring both to the fore?

Sultan: Well this ship has a lot of history and Dubai is a Maritime Center. And so it is really something we are proud of that we have acquired this vessel and brought it back to its original condition we haven't had anything else and we are patching through it a maritime museum. People will learn about advances in maritime so that is something important for us to preserve our heritage and to contribute to preserve the Maritime Heritage worldwide. As far as technology and Hyperloop I think Dubai existence came out of innovation to be honest with you. Dubai is a small place we have a very small coastline we don't have a lot of land that is why you see people building high rises in Dubai. It is not by choice. It is a necessity we have no way of going horizontally. Development of Dubai as a maritime city today the Port of Dubai is one of the most important. Jebel Ali Port in Dubai today handles 50 percent containers for the whole state say 50 million. And Jebel Ali alone is 50 something million containers. When we started to develop our logistical reach around the world and rebuild a fantastic company acquiring XX company which is P&O which is a maritime icon. Not only did we take it as a small company but we expand it. So from 25 terminal we have 78. So the network of ports around the world the logistic ability and reach combined with this new technology is going to be what will make us survive in the future.

Branson: Sorry I was just going to say I think what Sultan has done then with the QE 2 is as a somebody was born in Britain has a British accent. It's nothing short of miraculous. I mean it's wonderful that to bring a ship that has so much history back alive again. As a musing aside I was once crossed the Atlantic on a boat and we sank. I was in a rubber dinghy radioing for help and I was told that the QE 2 was coming to my rescue. And I never, never got there but I never got there in fact the banana boat got there first. So this is my first time on the QE2 but it very nearly meant a lot to me as well.

Hadley: So Richard you're sort of the barometer for what's cool in terms of what's cool to invest in, in terms of what's the next big thing what's coming next?

Branson: Oh well obviously we know we like to be. We like to do cutting edge cutting edge things. And as you may have seen about 10 days ago we had a very successful flight of our spaceship in the next three or four weeks we'll have a hopefully another very successful flight of our spaceship. And then you know where we're on the cusp of the cusp of fulfilling our dream which has taken 13 years. I mean we're you know we're willing to invest in the long term. There we've had eight hundred engineers working for you know for 13 years on this project. But you know we hope that in the not too distant future to be starting to send people into space. I'm sure that some people might. Sultan of course is going to sign off on the go. But. But the lovely thing is that a lot of people want to go to space. I think that you know we've also got something called Virgin orbits which is going to put bigger satellites around the earth and connect the four billion people who are not connected. So there's an awful lot of exciting things going on out there and you know Virgin likes to be part of part of these exciting exciting developments

Hadley: Sultan when you look at the future distribution the future of transportation. What do you see next on the horizon?

Sultan: Well let me tell you. Today, our vision is evolving and unless we are able to adapt to the evolution we will be missed. One of the reason we got interested in Hyperloop is I noticed three years ago when I first heard that they were talking about city to city there is no port in between. That scared me. That's to me that's disruptive to us. And so we looked at it but today the business is changing. For example you look at Uber as an example it is passenger with a driver and nobody in between cargo will have the same. So we have expanded our role as a port operator. Our role today traditionally is from the key to the gate. Now our role is from the factory floor to the consumer door. We have to be involved in that. We're not going to buy trucks, we are not going to buy planes but we're going to make sure we are involved. So we invested in logistics huge logistics operation in India. Both campaigns we have huge logistics in Peru and other areas to make sure that we connect everybody and not only that we are investing in technology and blockchain. And many think that today it's going to be very critical. We are very proud that Richard joined because he believes in technology not only he believe he practice technology. He is attempting space travel. So it's a good fit of somebody who knows and he has the knowledge and he believes in it because you cannot succeed in something unless you really believe in it and I think it is a good marriage for both of us to make sure this company becomes one of the main intermodal both for passenger and cargo

Hadley: Finally gentlemen before I let you go I want to ask you. We've been talking about the future of technology. We've been talking about the exciting innovations that are coming on the horizon. What's something that keeps you up at night. Is it geopolitics. Is it how the world is changing is it climate change?

Sultan: Let me tell you. You were asking before about trade wards and if you look today I was in China Hainan where this year there was some tension between U.S. and China and the Chinese president in the speech committed to reduce the custom duty to open China more. A few days ago the Koreans for the first time started to agree to a peaceful relation. So I believe that trade war is out of the past. I think I know whether Richard agrees with me or not but when you look at Trump people think he's a champion of trade war. He is is it his view is he wants to see fair trade. He doesn't believe free trade is answer. He says I open my market. I expect others to open their market if you close your market. Then I will retaliate. And I think what happened at the end of the day is everybody is committed to open their markets. Everybody will benefit when everybody opens their market. That is I think what's happening. But what keeps us awake in my view for me is technology. What tends to come in technology that we haven't thought of that will disrupt our business. This is what keeps us on our toes, that we have to be proactive. We have to watch. We have to see. We have attempt. We have to learn. You know we have to try and unless we do that we could be facing a problem in technology that we cannot fix.

Hadley: Do you agree?

Branson: Yes I think I agree with all that. I mean what keeps me awake I think we have a couple of organizations. One called The Elders and another one called Carbon War Room and another one called the B team that all are working on climate change issues. And you know it was magnificent that 192 nations signed up at Paris. But to get to carbon neutrality by 2050 we've got to work really hard to get there. And you know obviously something like Virgin Hyperloop which is carbon neutral. And we'll be using this sun to power it and battery to power it will play its part. It will take a lot of lorries off the road. You know for freight it'll take an awful lot of cars off the road so. So it's up to us entrepreneurs to come up with entrepreneurial ways of getting on top of these problems.

Hadley: Gentlemen, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining CNBC.