As some of you may recall, I bought Richard Branson’s biography (second-hand I might add) a while back. I’ve just finished it and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not about his business practices, nor his business philosophy, and certainly not about how great he or his businesses are. It’s a simple, honest and pull-no-punches account of his life. He doesn’t try to talk his abilities up and doesn’t spend his time bragging about his achievements.
It only covers up to 1993 and gives insights into stories many people know about, but perhaps haven’t heard the full story of. For example, I didn’t know that Saddam invaded Kuwait for a legitimate reason (arguably) – Kuwait had promised Iraq several oil wells in return for fighting against Iran, they then reneged on that agreement (several times). I didn’t know that Branson flew a mercy mission into Baghdad after doing a deal with Saddam to exchange medical supplies for some of the foreign nationals (i.e. hostages) he was holding. I also didn’t know Branson was arrested by customs and very nearly went to prison for a tax rip-off relating to the records he sold. And there is, of course, plenty of insight to his Virgin business empire. I hadn’t realised how close he had come to bankruptcy, or how often, I didn’t know he only sold Virgin Records because he couldn’t get finance for Virgin Atlantic or that he created a free young person’s advice line early in his career.
All in all it was a fascinating insight into one of the most successful (just), lucky (very) and daring (undoubtedly) business leaders in British history and I thoroughly recommend it. I can’t wait for the next one to come out covering the years that have followed.
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Reviewed: 1st July 2005