Power Players

Billionaire Richard Branson: What being a parent has in common with starting a business

Holly and Sam Branson with their father Richard Branson
Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images

Billionaire Richard Branson says raising children is one of the few things tougher but more rewarding than building a business.

The Virgin Group founder, father of two and grandparent to five children said in a blog post published on Monday that starting a business was a lot like having a baby.

"You have to do a huge amount of planning before the big day arrives, but no matter how prepared you are, something unexpected will inevitably happen," he said, recalling how his wife Joan went into early labor with his daughter Holly.

"I was worse for wear from a Virgin party and she had to kick me out of bed to get us to the hospital," Branson added.

Like the birth of child, the launch of a company can also present surprises, he said. At the unveiling of the Virgin MiamiCentral center earlier this year, Branson said he had his 77th brush with death when a metal-framed banner came crashing down on his head.

And as with a new company, a new born baby "will inevitably take up all of your time to begin with," he said. Branson lived on a houseboat in London's Little Venice with his wife and daughter during the expansion of music label Virgin Records, working next to the bedroom from a desk "crammed between the bilge pump and the stairs."

Starting a business with a small team also requires taking on many different job roles, having to "pick up new skills on the fly," he said.

"In the same way you won't know how to change a nappy until you do it, you won't know how to sell advertising until you give it a go," Branson pointed out.

Learning the art of delegation is also key in this process, he said, noting how both entrepreneurs and new parents suffer from sleep deprivation.

"While running a business is very hard work, you need to take time out to stand back and enjoy what you have created," he commented. "This space also gives you a chance to look at the bigger picture and plan your next move."

He compared this to how parents take a step back as their child grows up, giving them the freedom to make mistakes and learn lessons for themselves.

His daughter Holly trained as a doctor before joining her father's non-profit foundation Virgin Unite, establishing its charitable trust for young people Big Change and going on to join Virgin's leadership team. Branson's son Sam, meanwhile, built his own film production company, Sundog and sits on the board of the Virgin Group.

Branson said he continues to keep a close on all Virgin businesses often from a distance, to allow CEOs and leadership teams the space to do their jobs and build their teams, offering advice and support when needed without "stifling or micro-managing."

"Over the years, I've learnt first-hand that this really is the best approach to ensure a new business comes into it's own," he said.

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