Last weekend, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson spoke to the Colgate commu-nity as part of the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate. The Colgate Day event, which took place in Sanford Field House on Friday, April 13, was the first in a series of events for Entrepreneur Weekend.
Branson had big shoes to fill Friday night, with past lecture series speakers including Presi-dent Bill Clinton, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, to name a few. The Parents’ and Grand-parents’ Fund started the lecture series in 2007, and it has been consistently well attended by the Colgate community.
“The Parents’ and Grand-parents’ Fund at Colgate raises money to support programs, financial aid and the Univer-sity’s most pressing needs,” Par-ents Steering Committee Chair Wendy Carey said. “Its signa-ture program is the Kerschner Family Global Leader Speaker Series, where the entire Colgate community is enriched about is-sues of worldwide importance. Sir Richard Branson is not only a successful global entrepreneur, but also a philanthropist and visionary in the areas of world health, energy, global warming and space exploration.”
There is no doubting the many successes of Branson who, at age 20, founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer in the United King-dom, which has now grown into a global empire earning revenues of over $21 billion. With over 400 branded companies in 29 different countries, Virgin has expanded be-yond the music industry and into air and rail travel, leisure and hos-pitality, health and wellness, clean energy and even space tourism. In 1999, Branson’s entrepreneurial en-deavors earned him knighthood by Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
It is no wonder that over four thousand Colgate students, family and alumni packed into Sanford Field House on Friday to hear what he had to say.
Having such extraordinary ex-periences to discuss, Branson had all the potential to live up to the expectations generated by preceding Global Leaders at Colgate. Unlike past speakers, however, Branson did not give a formal speech before the audience. Rather unconventionally, the event took place in an interview format, conducted by President Jef-frey Herbst. Many attendees found the format unfulfilling.
“I think the interview format obstructed Branson from talking about his personal experiences,” junior Will Hunnewell said. “For some reason, the questions left him answering in generali-ties and not providing as much insight as I’d hoped.”
Many who attended Friday’s event shared a similar experience.
“After attending last year’s Global Leaders event and hearing Bill Clinton speak, the Richard Branson discussion was a sheer letdown,” sophomore Robbie Ba-bus said. “Hearing Branson answer what country he would like to live in and other rather useless ques-tions took away from what could have been a great event.”
Although the event may have not lived up to expectations, there was still merit to be found in Bran-son’s responses. When asked about the global economy, Branson shared his thoughts on a positive outlook for the future of entrepreneurship.
“I think there are just as many possibilities today – if not more so – than there were five years ago,” Branson said. “The world needs entrepreneurs.”
When meeting in Palo Alto, California this past January, Col-gate’s Board of Trustees seemed to share a similar vision, creating the Colgate Innovation Awards to promote entrepreneurship on cam-pus. During his remarks on Friday, Herbst announced the winners of the contest, while also noting that the Palo Alto meeting was the first time that the Board had met out-side of New York state in Colgate’s 193-year history.
Branson, for one, believes that for us to see positive improvement, whether it is in our company or in our lives, we need to be able to make a change.
“Just about every major Ameri-can domestic airline has filed Chap-ter 11 at least once,” Branson said. “But they still come back and don’t reinvent themselves.”
It has been his conviction to re-invention that has propelled his suc-cess as an entrepreneur. It was after being bumped from a commercial airline flight that Branson decided to create Virgin Airlines. Discon-tent with how global leaders were dealing with third-world poverty, he created Virgin Unite to use his own resources. Branson has even gone to such extremes as to try and reinvent travel into space, launching Virgin Galactic in 2004 in an effort to pro-vide commercial space tourism at a reasonable price.
“I’ve gone through life and been frustrated with experiences,” Bran-son said. “I’ve thought, ‘We can do better. Let’s give it a go.'”
For over 40 years, Sir Richard Branson has done just that. One of the most important things that he has learned in the process is that be-ing an entrepreneur is about more than making money; it is about making a difference in the world.
“Embark on something you can sing about,” Branson said.
Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected]