Jim Duffy comment: Don’t knock the media-hungry Brand Branson

Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special. Picture: Ian Howarth
Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special. Picture: Ian Howarth
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As the Virgin Brand takes a battering over the East Coast line rail franchise fiasco, does this reflect badly on Britain’s best loved entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson? I’m not so sure as Sir Richard has a PR machine behind him that promotes… well, him. But, is being a celebrity entrepreneur a good role model and does it inspire others to become business builders?

Branson is one of those national treasures. “The boy done good” as they say. He has created massive wealth for himself, while building a whole raft of business models off the ultimate business model – him. From airlines to trains to broadband to cosmetics to balloon rides to banking to space, Branson and his team are on the money, disruptive and never miss an opportunity. But, it is this – must always be in the media spotlight – that turns many off. Indeed some wish that when he heads to space in a few months he stays there permanently. A negative attitude towards such a positive guy. But, why do many question Branson’s seemingly fixated obsession with always being front and centre in the media? Well, perhaps it is an entrepreneurial trait that we just have to live with.

Branson is a true billionaire who is estimated to have net worth of about $6 billion. The Virgin brand that he has created over many decades holds tremendous commercial value. As a business model many want to invest in it and in anything he gets involved with. It’s a bit like brand Beckham. The individual is portrayed as the linchpin and demi-god that can do no wrong. The fear of missing out on a Branson deal creates the scarcity and buzz that has investors piling in. Mind you, in Branson’s case he was honest enough to accept that creating Virgin Atlantic was not the best entrepreneurial move in the beginning. One commentator asked him how does one becomes a multi-millionaire? To which Sir Richard allegedly answered, start off as billionaire then start an airline. His battle with BA was costly, but his determination to create an alternative UK carrier that had the business/first class cabin that he was after has now paid off.

From the airline came big marketing spend. And this is where the Branson magic really started in the media. Brand Branson became synonymous with entrepreneurial flair, disruption and big bucks. And he has optimised the opportunities presented every since.

And why not? He is the classic, archetypal opportunity hungry entrepreneur who loves a challenge and loves to make money while doing so. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book. But, is Sir Richard verging on the celebrity entrepreneur caricature as opposed to the serious one that inspires so many to take up the tough career of living as an early stage entrepreneur?

I believe it’s just the nature of the beast for some. As entrepreneurs are ego driven in many cases as well as driving as much personal wealth as they can, the need or craving to be “Number One” will always be part of their make up.

But, where does one draw the line? And is there a specific type of entrepreneur who lives live in the media? The UK has many multi-millionaires, according to the Times Rich List. But, they do not all court press, nor want to be loved by us all – simply for being a brand or being great in business. Many lead a quieter life and want no media attention. The UK’s richest man – Jim Ratcliffe – is rarely ever in the media. In fact, I bet you couldn’t pick him out in a line up. But, we can all pick out Branson within the blink of an eye.

While some will criticise Branson for his constant media presence, I think it’s a good thing and inspirational to so many who aspire to follow in his footsteps. Brand Branson is a key driver of young inspiration and aspiration. So, keep on flying Sir Richard until we find another to take your place in the future and pick up the mantle.

- Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special