Today, we’re delighted to welcome Sir Richard Branson to the series. A prolific entrepreneur, Sir Richard has business interests that have spanned the globe. Literally spanned the globe, covering sea, land, air, and space. Over the past five decades, he as built and invested in companies that have challenged industry norms across entertainment, financial, transportation, technology, and health sectors to name a few. His pioneering Virgin Group has consistently demonstrated the importance of innovation and expansion. And in his own words, “Making business a force for good.”
The CEO Series comes at a unique time for our country, and for the global community. Today, decisions made by political leaders and business executives alike have enormous impact, reaching far beyond their direct constituents and customers. Sir Richard has embraced this reality through his personal and professional commitments to issues of climate change, energy efficiency, and conservation. So we look forward to hearing from him about those and other important subjects in his conversation with Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post opinion writer, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and host of the Cape Up podcast series.
So now, please join me in welcoming Sir Richard Branson and Jonathan Capehart.
Capehart: Wow. Look at all these people, Sir Richard. [LAUGHTER] It’s amazing. Well, good afternoon. I’m Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post, as our publisher just said. I’m excited to welcome you to our CEO interview series with Sir Richard Branson. Thank you again very much for joining us today. And before we get started, a quick reminder to our audience here, and folks who might be watching livestream, that I have a tablet here, on stage, to take a few of your questions throughout our conversation. Tweet your questions to @PostLive using #CEOLive, and do it early and often, because I’m sure Sir Richard will run through all my questions.
But you are in town to march in the Climate March tomorrow.
Branson: Before we talk about that—[LAUGHTER]
Branson: Anytime I go on stage, I normally bring a pair —you assistant actually gave me this, saying that your tie should be cut off. But he’s got a very—[LAUGHTER] You’ve got a very nice tie so I think—we’ll spare you. All right. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Well, on behalf of my tie drawer, I thank you, but Hermes is probably upset because they just lost out on getting a new tie. Well, with that—[LAUGHTER]
Branson: I’m in town for the climate—[OVERLAPPING]
Capehart: Yes. You’re in town for the Climate March tomorrow.
Capehart: You know, in this town, and in the country, there are a lot of climate-change skeptics. [LAUGHS] Where do you think that comes from, and why don’t you think—even though, what is it, 99% of the climate scientists say there’s human cause of this—the information and the science doesn’t go through?
Branson: Well, it seems to be unique to America, the climate skeptic. [LAUGHTER] As America’s got quite a few things unique things about it at the moment, but the climate change is one of those things. Since now you have the Republicans running America, what we, as business leaders, are trying to do is to get the message across to those skeptics that even if you are a skeptic, it makes sense for America and the rest of the world to be powered by clean energy.
I mean, I think even the biggest climate skeptic must like their children to breathe clean air. So if we can power the world by the sun, and by wind, and by wonderful innovations in batteries, we’re going to create hundreds of thousands, millions of jobs. We’re going to have clean air, and we’ll have a fuel price, energy price, globally, which is about half what the current energy price is. And it will be like that forever. Whereas if we don’t invest in clean energy, and get out there and create those millions of jobs, fuel prices could be back up at $150 a barrel again. And in my opinion, we’ll be polluting and damaging the world we live in as well.
Capehart: But can any of those goals, that you just outlined, be achieved if the United States is not an active partner in all of that? I mean, you’re a big supporter of COP 21, but who knows where the United States government is right now, and whether it’s in or it’s out. But if the United States officially gets out of the Paris agreement, can any of these goals be reached?
Branson: Well, the United States will be left way behind if it doesn’t keep the momentum going. I mean, China has got a clean-energy revolution going on. I mean, millions of jobs have been created in the clean energy. Europe’s got a clean-energy revolution going on. South America’s got a clean-energy revolution going on. And fortunately, in America, 95% of business leaders believe in climate change, and they want to do something about it. Most of the oil companies in America are investing heavily in technology that will be the technology of the future, when the demand for oil disappears.
So it’s not going to be as easy, obviously, if you’ve got an administration that puts barriers up rather than encouraging it. You know, but I think we’ve got to make it happen. And we’ve got to get to the that carbon neutrality by 2050. One interesting thing that I learnt yesterday, in one of the TED Talks, James Hansen came up with this brilliant idea a few years ago. And that was put a tax on carbon, but give 100% of that tax back to people in their wage packets, and equally, right across the board.
There’s a group of Republicans, George Schultz and others, who have taken up that idea, and are pushing the White House right now to accept it. And if you can create a differential between carbon and clean energy, then it just gives the clean-energy revolution, I think, a change to move even quicker, and even more jobs to be created.
Capehart: Well, what you just said actually works perfectly with this question that just chimed in from Twitter. And that is, when it comes to energy alternatives, do you think there’s a place for nuclear energy?
Branson: I think there could be a place if you think that, politically, it could ever get through. I think that it’s unlikely that, politically, it will ever get. Therefore, I think, fortunately, there’s enough—I mean, the price of solar has come down so dramatically. The price of wind is coming down so dramatically. The price of batteries are coming down dramatically. And new innovations; we’re working with Bill Gates on a breakthrough energy coalition, looking at new innovations.
There are so many exciting new innovations coming through. So I think some of these things have a better change, I think, than nuclear. Although, nuclear, arguably, needs to be a part of the equations.
Capehart: You have something called the “Virgin Earth Challenge.” And you started this in 2007. It’s a prize to a company. I want you to talk about it, because the point of this challenge is to come up with sustainable, scalable ways of removing carbon, greenhouse gases, from the atmosphere. How many winners have you had? If you talk about one or some of the ideas that have come forward? Have they gone to scale?
Branson: You know, longitude, latitude was only discovered because of a prize. One of the reasons we’re going to space is because of X Prize and SpaceShipOne. So prizes can have a fantastic, catalyzing effect. We set up the Virgin Earth prize, a $25 million prize, to see if anybody could come up with a way of extracting carbon out of the earth’s atmosphere. And we wanted them to be able to extract enough carbon that would basically solve the problem.
It was a big task, but just to get people thinking. A lot of people have put their mind to it. We’ve got 10 organizations that we’ve watching closely. Nobody has come up with the winning formula yet. It took 75 years for the longitude prize to be won. Hopefully, it will take a lot less. But in the meantime, I mean, this prize is there in case everything else fails. In the meantime, I think we’ve just got to get on, and do the nuts and bolts of getting clean energy out there.
There are many new technologies that are being developed. Like in Manchester University, there were two professors that won the prize for inventing something called “graphene.” We built a plane a few years ago called the “Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer,” 100% out of carbon fiber, to show Boeing and Airbus that carbon fiber should be part of the mix for aeroplanes. When it successfully flew nonstop around the world, with Steve Fossett piloting it, Airbus came to where we had built it. I think partly as a result of that and other things, you’ve got the 787. You’ve got the A350 planes, which are 50, 60% carbon fiber. That means we’re saving 20% fuel burn on them.
We’re now working with Manchester University and others on graphene. Graphene is maybe nine times lighter than carbon fiber. It’s maybe nine times strong, very roughly, than carbon fiber. You can’t use it in quite the same way as carbon fiber, because it’s incredibly thin. But you can mix it into the mix. And so, future planes, hopefully, will then be another big step forward to the much lighter .
So, you know, lots and lots of these things are going on around the world, which, hopefully, if every country works hard towards fulfilling them, we will get there.
Capehart: You’ve mentioned space. You’ve mentioned airlines. Two subjects that I want to get to, but before I do that, I want to ask you about the assertion that we heard over, and over, and over again here, in this country, that coal is coming back; that we’re going to bring the coal jobs back. [LAUGHTER] You firmly believe that renewable energy will win the day. Will it win the day, or has it already won the day, renewable energy? Not necessarily here, in this country, but globally?
Branson: I can’t think of anything more stupid than to talk about bringing coal back. [LAUGHTER] Actually, there are some things which are even more stupid, but anyway. I mean, first of all, digging coal is a pretty horrible job. It kills a lot of people that work in coal mines. Most countries have got rid of that now. The people who were digging coal in coal mines are now working, you know, putting solar panels on peoples’ roofs. You know, working on creating windmills. A whole new revolution of new jobs is being created.
America should be setting an example to other countries that are still reliant on coal, to show that you don’t have to be reliant on coal anymore. Fortunately, China was new coal-power station every week, and now moving rapidly towards clean energy. They have dirty energy in their face. I mean, the coal, if you go into Beijing and other places, you can hardly see. So they have another incentive as well to—[OVERLAPPING]
Capehart: Would you say that China is leading the renewable energy revolution? Or is that too—
Branson: Yeah. No, China is definitely leading the clean energy revolution today. They’ve already, I would say, overtaken America. And the reason that the clean-energy revolution is really taking off now is the price they’ve managed to drive solar panels down. I think on some of the more technical things, like battery power, America is still ahead, and Europe. But as far as just replacing dirty energy, China, I would say, is moving the quickest.
Capehart: Is the reason why you’re getting into space travel is because you’re trying to ensure that we have a way, and some place to go, before Earth turns into a galactic raisin? [LAUGHTER]
Branson: Generally speaking, the Earth is a pretty good place to be, and we’ve got to make sure that we keep it a good place to be, and make it an even better place to be. I mean, if you look at the last six decades, and study the last six decades, every decade has got better, and better, and better; whether it’s famine; whether it’s poverty; even wars. Pretty well everything has got better. Obviously, Syria has been the most ghastly blight there.
But by and large, things have got better. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw 24-hour news, but things have got better. Gay rights in America. Things have got better. Other countries, there’s a lot of work still to do.
So I don’t think we need to all go live on the moon or Mars. [LAUGHTER] And they’re not very hospitable places. But I do think that space can play, and already has played, a massive, positive role back here on Earth. I mean, we’re involved in putting a big array of satellites around the Earth, which will continue to make a big difference. There are still 4.5 billion people who don’t have internet or Wi-Fi access. They are at a big disadvantage to those of us who do. And a lot of those people don’t even have the access to telephones as well, the education that you get through the internet, and other things.
I think that people should, if they want, be able to go to space, and become astronauts, and marvel back at the wonderful world we live in—[OVERLAPPING]
Capehart: I think you called it “Virgin Galactic astronauts.” So could I, right now, say to you, “Hey, Richard, I want to be one of your astronauts?” How does that even work? How does that happen?
Branson: Well, you have to work hard and make a bit of money. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: A bit of money? And how much are we talking?
Branson: Initially, it’s expensive. I mean, it’s about $250,000.
Capehart: The same price as a certain club membership I heard about. [LAUGHTER] So, 250,000.
Branson: What club are we talking about? You go to expensive clubs.
Capehart: I’ve never been. I’ve only seen pictures.
Branson: Anyway, it has to start somewhere. Like the aviation travel was the equivalent price in the 1920s. And it will come down quite a lot in the years to come. I think through space travel, we’re going to get point-to-point travel at much quicker speeds. We’re going to get almost completely environmentally friendly travel. There’s a whole lot of breakthroughs I think that which will take place. One day we will have a Virgin Hotel in space. It’s something that I know my children are looking forward to. I hope we can hurry up and so I can look forward to it.
Capehart: I believe a test flight is going to happen this year. And then is the hope 2018, to have like a full-on, full-fledged, the first Virgin Galactic astronauts to go up?
Branson: I’ve made the mistake of giving dates before and being wrong. [LAUGHTER] But if you say so, that sounds—[LAUGHTER] That sounds good.
Capehart: It’s all about being helpful.
Branson: It’s been tough. Space is tough. I think all of us who’ve been in it have found it tougher than we thought.
Capehart: And yet you stick with it though?
Branson: Yeah. You know, we’ve got 800 astronauts signed up to go to space. Their commitment has helped us keep our commitment to it. We’ve got 650 wonderful engineers, here in the states, working on it. And space is becoming a big, new industry in America. You’ve got Elon, Jeff Bezos, who I think has something to do with a company—[LAUGHTER]
Capehart: Yes, that would be the beloved Jeff Bezos—[OVERLAPPING]
Branson: Yeah. So you’ve got three people who really are putting a lot of energy, and time, and effort into it. And I think we’ll hopefully create some magic through it.
Capehart: Let’s talk about another kind of travel that is probably as strenuous, but a little closer to Earth, and that’s airline travel. I can’t imagine a situation happening on a Virgin flight that happened on a certain United flight. But if it had happened on a Virgin flight, what would you have done?
Branson: I think it wouldn’t have happened on a Virgin flight. [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] The whole reason that Virgin set up 33 years ago with Virgin Atlantic was because airline travel was pretty dire. The way that people were treated, it was not great. We set up Virgin Atlantic just with one secondhand 747, taking on TWA, and Pan Am, and Air Florida, and People Express.
Capehart: There’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. [LAUGHTER]
Branson: I mention those four because these, between them, had something like 800 planes. And we had one plane. All of those airlines have disappeared. The reason they disappeared was they didn’t look after the people who traveled on them. They got replaced by United, and American, and others. Those airlines have been bust three or four times. And in America, you have something called “Chapter 11,” which is great. [LAUGHTER] If your management mess up, they just then get rid of all their creditors, and they start all over again. [LAUGHTER]
Capehart: It’s like an inside joke. Everyone is sort of giggling.
Branson: In Britain, if we messed up, you know, we’re like a tree. If a tree dies, we’re dead. [LAUGHTER] We leave for new, young saplings to grow. So we had to look after our passengers. We can’t afford to go into Chapter 11. We can’t’ afford to go bankrupt. You know, we have to be great. And it’s a lot more fun running an airline that has people who smile and are friendly to their passengers, rather than the reverse.
Capehart: So you still have Virgin Atlantic, but it broke my heart to read that you sold Virgin America to Alaska—
Branson: I didn’t sell Virgin.
Capehart: Okay, Virgin America was sold to Alaska Airlines.
Branson: It broke my heart too. You have this rather strange situation in America that British people, we can own banks in America. We can own spaceship companies in America. We can own hospitals in America. We can own lots of things, but we’re not allowed to own an airline.
And this has been a really clever move by the big airlines to try to protect their patch, and they’ve managed to lobby and fight and keep a situation where only people who—with American passports can own American airlines. And so, when we set up Virgin America, we had to bring in venture capital organizations to own it, and we were a minority shareholder, and sadly, they had an offer they couldn’t refuse, and they sold it.
Capehart: So, there goes the cabin with the purple lights. I have to—since you’re here, let me ask you this. What’s up with the purple light? Is the mood—am I supposed to feel like I’m walking into a club in South Beach or Ibiza? Or is there some other thing at work with the purple light? Because no one else does it.
Branson: The exciting thing about starting a company or starting an airline is you take out a big blank sheet of paper, and you think—or this is what you should do, I think, and you’re painting a—you’re painting a painting; you’re trying to get every little single thing right on that canvas, and obviously, number one priority is you get the friendliest, best people to work within this canvas, work within your airline.
But then, every little detail must be right, so when you walk on, you must feel—into an airline, you must feel, wow, I feel at home, I feel welcome. And the quality of the seats, everything must be right, and I think that’s what the team at Virgin America achieved, but anyway, what’s the space on that? We’re not—
Capehart: Do you think there will come a time when there will be another airline like Virgin America?
Branson: Look, it would be too sad for there not to be. That’s all I can say at this stage.
Capehart: I don’t have a whole lot of time to go dive in on that, because you have a lot of interests and a lot of passions, and I’m sort of hard-pressed to find an issue that you not only care about, but that you haven’t also written about and have campaigned for. One of those is criminal justice reform and from that is concern about the war on drugs, concerned about the death penalty. Of all the things that you have to do, and all of the companies that you’re running, and all of the issues that you are passionate about, what is it about criminal justice that pulls you in?
Branson: Well, I suppose—I mean, I started in business when I was 15, so I’ve been 50 years of traveling the world, and seeing—learning about what’s going on in the world, and seeing a lot of things that are wrong in the world that I feel need to be fixed. One of the things that took place 40-odd years ago was the infamous war on drugs, a similar war that took place on the war on alcohol back in the ‘20s here in America. And that war has done untold damage on a global basis, because the war started in America, but America has imposed their will on the rest of the world. And it’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being incarcerated in America, mainly minority groups. It’s resulted in people who have drugs problems not being able to come and get help. And so, with this particular problem, we’ve got involved with something called the global drug commission, which is 15 ex-presidents, Kofi Annan, and myself, to try to get governments to change their approach and treat drugs as a health problem, not a criminal problem.
And to experiment with new approaches. We’ve welcomed the states in America that have legalized; we’ve welcomed the states that have set up medical marijuana centers, and we pray that this new administration does not interfere, and just lets this experiment continue, because the experiment is working. It’s not resulting in thousands more people taking drugs, and in fact, with the medical marijuana centers, it’s actually helping a lot of people who are benefitting from them.
Capehart: Well, first, have you had any—you personally had any kind of contact with the new administration—anyone in the new administration?
Branson: I’m not sure I’m the best person to talk to them, because I spoke out quite strongly against the administration before it came into power. But so, I will send other people into talk to them.
Capehart: Well, if you could talk to anyone in the administration, on this issue, presumably the war on drugs and what you said about marijuana, what message would you want to impart?
Branson: I would say that they need to do what the global drug commission did; they need to look at example closely about—I mean, look at Portugal. They had a massive heroin problem the turn of the century. And the president of Portugal went on television, said, “Nobody is ever going to prison ever again for taking drugs, we’re going to help. We’re going to sit down and help you with heroin. We’re going to have places you can come to get your heroin fix. We’re going to give you clean needles. We’re going to make sure you don’t overdose. We’re going to make sure you don’t catch Hepatitis C or HIV. And when you’re ready, we’re going to help you get into a clinic and ween you off.”
And within very short period of time, the heroin problem had disappeared from Portugal. America has now got a big heroin problem. That is the way to deal with it; not to leave these people in this sort of shady underworld, having to go and break and enter into people’s homes to get their fix. People who are addicted to heroin, generally speaking, want to get off it. They want help, and you can’t leave them to the underworld.
Capehart: So, according to my reporting, President Obama, when he was president, was reading an article on criminal justice reform, and you were mentioned in this article, and he was so impressed, he turned to an aid and said, “He’s doing some interesting things. I’d like to meet him.” You eventually went to lunch at the White House with President Obama. You found a kindred spirit in him, didn’t you?
Branson: Yes, I suspect we agree on a lot of things, and we had—that was a first time of really getting to know each other well, and whether it was death penalty reform or climate change or pretty well all areas, I would say, we’re on the same page. And yeah, it was a privilege spending time with him. I went that night to—I’ll tell a story against myself. I went that night to his birthday party at the White House, and I was walking in with a friend, and there was a picture of him with this lovely little girl, sitting next to him, and I said to my friend, “Is that his daughter?” She said, “Richard, his daughter is black.”
Capehart: Well, whose daughter was it? No idea?
Capehart: So, one of the things that President Obama—when he was president and now that he’s no longer president, he’s doing the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. It was in the White House; now it’s My Brother’s Keeper alliance, and it covers a lot of the things that obviously, he’s interested in, but also that you’re interested in. Are you involved in any way with MBK?
Branson: I think we will be working. We’ve got a foundation that covers many of the areas that he covers and we’ve agreed that the two foundations will overlap on things and work together on things. And I think he’s in an incredible position globally to make a formidable difference in the years to come, and I think that’s what he wants to do. So, if we can help in any way, we’ll certainly be there to help.
Capehart: So, Obama and his wife Michelle, they spent some time with you at your home on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, a beautiful part of the world. You live there. Every morning, from my research, you get up every morning around 5:00, you do emails, you kitesurf every day. Now, here’s the thing. You do that every day and here come the Obamas, and you put out this minute video of the two of you in a kitesurfing contest, and he beat you. The man was the leader of the free world for eight years, had no time really for any kind of real exercise, and yet he rolls up on your island and beats you. Did you expect him to beat you?
Branson: It was humiliating. Well, they—yeah, my only defense was I was learning to do something called foil boarding against him learning to kitesurf. Foil boarding is very strange; you’re going along on a board, and the board then comes out three foot out of the water, and generally you just end up falling, and I fell a lot.
Capehart: It looks like it hurts.
Branson: Consumed a lot of the water, but we had a lot of fun. And I’m such a gracious loser. Yeah, he’s extraordinarily fit man. And it was—he had the biggest grin on his face for 10 days.
Capehart: Yeah, he sure did. That picture ricocheted around the United States. He looked like that ex-boyfriend who looks happier and healthier after he left you. It’s like, thanks a lot.
Branson: I think that—yeah, I mean, look. There’s nothing he can—when you step down from being Prime Minister or president of a country, I think you’re absolutely right. The best way of doing it is to—you’ve done your bit, and then you have to hand the keys over for a year or so, and do your best not to interfere. And it must be very difficult, but I’m sure that’s sensible advice, and it seems to be the way he’s behaving.
Capehart: So, one thing I found very surprising to read and tell me if I’ve read something that’s not true, and that is, you are very, very shy. You’re naturally shy. You’re an introvert, which runs completely counter to everything that I’ve seen just from what you’ve done, just in terms of branding the Virgin brand around the world. Shy is not what I get. I get brash, confident, extrovert, hard-charging. How do you do that? How do you put the shyness aside to be a very public showman?
Branson: Well, my mum tried to teach me how to get over my shyness. She would shove us on the stage and tell us that shyness was a selfish thing, and you’re thinking of yourself, and you’ve got to get out there and think about other people, and so I think, you know, I’ve hopefully largely overcome it, over the years. If I’m talking about subjects that I know about, and that maybe that’s why I love to learn about everything that’s going on in the world. I find it relatively easy, and I’m talking about things you don’t know about, and having to bullshit about things you don’t know about, I find really tough.
But if I’ve got a basic knowledge of it, I can overcome the shyness, I think.
Capehart: So, ten years ago, you were asked, what do you want your legacy to be? And you told the interviewer, look, my mother lived until she was 101. I’ve got a lot of time, so it’s too early for that question. That was ten years ago. Are you in legacy mode yet?
Branson: Well, my mum’s still alive.
Capehart: So that makes her how old now?
Branson: Yeah, she’s 93 now.
Capehart: Your grandmother lived to—
Branson: My grandmother, that’s right.
Capehart: But your mother is 93. That’s some good genes.
Branson: You know, we’re fortunate with the genes. Now, look, I’m trying not to think about legacy yet, but I love life, I live life to its full every day. I pinch myself because it’s just such a fascinating journey, and I think we’re—if you get into a position where you can make a difference, then you don’t want to waste that position, so I suppose I spend quite a lot of my time on issues. If I go back and the last two times I’ve marched—I’ve only marched twice in my life, so far. I’ve marched against the Vietnamese war when I was a teenager, shouting, “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” And I think the Vietnamese marches by young people really helped bring an end to that very unjust war.
I marched against the Iraq war, and then sadly, despite massive marches but maybe not massive enough, that war didn’t—was not stopped. And climate change is the third time, and just as important, I think, for the world, as those other two are. And just as important for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and so looking forward to tomorrow’s march, and hopefully lots of people will turn up.
Capehart: Let me ask you a question here that’s come in from Twitter, and that is, with the rise of populism around the world, can people like you create real change on global humanitarian and civic issues? How, and is one of the ways through business?
Branson: Yes, I mean, we’ve set up various not for profit organizations to address some of these issues, so we set up the elders with Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan and Archbishop Tutu and a number of wonderful ladies like Mary Robinson and so on, to go into conflict regions. We set up the B team, which is a group of business leaders to—wonderful people like Paul Pullman from Unilever, and Mohammed Younis and others to get out and talk about—and we were all there in force at the Paris talks, going along and seeing the Indian ministers, seeing the Chinese ministers, trying to show them that there’s a business reason why they should support COP 21.
And so, I think a group of business leaders can make a big difference in the world. And we’re trying to get—you know, we’re setting up a Chinese group and an Indian group, and other groups around the world with like-minded individuals. And there are a number of organizations like that we set up, which I think can help push some of these issues forward.
Capehart: So, we only have about five minutes left, and I never like to let anyone go without asking them some rapid fire, silly, unrelated questions.
Branson: Thank you. I was drinking an empty tea cup. Thank you.
Capehart: Are you afraid of anything? Like truly afraid of anything?
Branson: I think the only thing I can think of to be afraid of is an illness in the family, or friend’s illness. But otherwise, I think I can’t think of anything I would be particularly fearful of.
Capehart: Who has more cars; you or Jay Leno?
Branson: Well, I don’t actually have a car, so I think maybe Jay Leno wins that one.
Capehart: Wait, so is this a fake news thing, where I saw they’d said you like to collect cars.
Branson: I don’t collect cars.
Capehart: Okay, I’m going to go find that and report that.
Branson: I live on an island. I do have a sort of battery-driven golf cart.
Capehart: Okay, that counts. I’ll take that.
Branson: And I’m looking forward to these flying cars, so maybe I can fly from this side of my island to other people’s island.
Capehart: Is there an issue you couldn’t care less about? I mean, you care about a lot of stuff, but is there an issue that skitters across your desk or it’s in your inbox and you look at it and go, I really don’t care.
Branson: I try not to care about Trump’s first 100 days.
Capehart: What ever do you mean? So there really isn’t anything you—[OVERLAPPING]
Branson: No, look, I care passionately about most things, and some a hell of a lot more than others. And I’m a good listener. I just love learning all the time. I left school at 15, so I’ve spent the rest of my life getting the sort of university education I never had from meeting fascinating people and listening and learning, and then trying to do something about things.
Capehart: So, you’re going to throw a dinner party for just with five other people. You and five other people from history. Who would the five be, and none of them can be alive right now? Who are the five people you would love to have around a dinner table?
Branson: I think it would be—I’d go back to the era of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth—
Branson: Yeah, the first one.
Capehart: Just to be clear.
Branson: I love the great explorers of the early days, and yeah, Peter Pan. I’ll throw him in. Yeah, who else?
Capehart: You’ve got one seat left.
Branson: I’ve got one seat left. Oh, Jesus Christ, yes, I’d like to meet him.
Capehart: That would be interesting. I would have thrown in Cleopatra.
Branson: Dammit. You’ve got a much more interesting dinner.
Capehart: Well, if you add two more chairs, I’ll show up.
Branson: You show up with Cleopatra.
Capehart: All right, so if you go online, these videos I know are true, because you are in them, and it’s Sir Richard Branson’s business—or A to Z for business. Yeah, Branson’s A to Z of business, and you go through every letter of the alphabet, and each one has—for V you say virginity. Why virginity?
Branson: Well, my life has been pure, untouched. I have two immaculately conceived children. I’m trying to remember why I said virginity. But look, my first book was called Losing My Virginity and I’ve spent my life trying things that I knew nothing about. So, like every business I’ve been into, I knew nothing about the airline business. I knew nothing about the space business. I knew nothing about music retailing. So, I’ve been losing my virginity throughout my life, and learning about things and testing things, and so, yeah, it’s been a good ride.
Capehart: And then, X is for X-rated. And you say, “Everyone should be X-rated.” Explain that. I’m sort of paraphrasing there, but that’s a lesson I got from it.
Branson: I can’t remember what I meant.
Capehart: Well, I will tell you. It basically goes back to the showmanship, to be—don’t be afraid to go outside the bounds to really put yourself out there.
Branson: Yeah, I mean, I’m known as Dr. Yes, and I just love throwing myself into everything. I find life is a lot more fun when you do that. It’s got me into a lot of trouble, and a big chunk of my life has been doing big adventures, and I was lucky to come back from them. So, particularly the ballooning adventures, but some of them were sort of, I suppose you could say, X-rated. And the other X-rated stuff I won’t go into. No, sorry.
Capehart: Well, real fast, what’s the dumbest business decision you ever made?
Branson: I thought we could knock Coca-Cola into number two position.
Capehart: Yeah, I would say that’s up there, going after Coke.
Branson: And we tried, and we had a lot of fun doing it, and for a while, I thought we were going to succeed, because it really took off like a rocket—well, like somebody else’s rocket, but one day, our rocket—in the UK. But in the end, they had bigger guns than us, and they came in and crushed us.
Capehart: Well, with that, Sir Richard Branson, thank you very much for being here. Thank you all for being here, and you can see other programs and videos at WashingtonPostLive.com. Thank you.
Branson: Thank you. Thank you very much.