Sir Richard Branson is an English business magnate, investor, author and philanthropist. He founded the Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies. Branson expressed his desire to become an entrepreneur at a young age.
Following is the full text of his conversation with Scott Budnick at TEDxIronwoodStatePrison.
It is my pleasure to introduce Mr Scott Budnick founder of the Anti-recidivism Coalition, along with Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
Scott Budnick: When they sent me Richard’s bio I didn’t think I would need to read it because I didn’t think there was anyone in this room that didn’t know who this incredible man is. But as I read through it there were a few facts that I thought were truly unbelievable.
First, there’re now more than 100 Virgin companies worldwide employing approximately 60,000 people. Which means he’s in charge of the livelihood of 60,000 families around the world. I found that incredible.
Number two, he’s about to start commercial space travel. This year?
Richard Branson: Yeah
Scott Budnick: We’re going up. He’s United Kingdom’s number one Twitter user. And he’s the world’s most followed person on LinkedIn.
But what I thought was absolutely incredible is that in 2004 he established his non-profit Virgin Unite to tackle both social and environmental problems and strives to make business a force for good. Most of his time now is spent working with Virgin Unite his non-profit.
So — Richard, 5 years ago I read a blog on Virgin.com which completely blew my mind. You wrote and sent it out wide that talking about how you hired former offenders and what great work they did for your company and how hard they worked and you encouraged other CEOs to hire former offenders.
And then throughout the years I saw you really dive deeply into the discussion around the drug war. And every time I told somebody that you were coming to speak today the first thing everyone asked is why does he care? I’d really like to know why Richard Branson cares about this issue.
Richard Branson: Well, first of all I’m not an expert at all on this issue. I’ve come here to listen, to learn, and hopefully from learning to try to do more. I think so many of us mess up in our lives. I was lucky, I messed up when I was 19 years old. I thought I could get away with not paying some taxes. Not a good idea.
And ended up a night in prison. I was fortunate, my parents had a house they were willing to mortgage the house so I didn’t have to spend longer in prison. And I think that’s the system that’s flawed. Why should people, while they’re waiting on bail, who can’t afford it, go to prison, and people who can afford it, not go to prison. But that’s another subject.
That moment, just being in prison, made me first of all realize I didn’t like the idea of going to prison. So, from then on I think I’ve managed to make sure I make decisions where I can sleep well at night and avoid that.
But I’ve also just learned that if you give people a second chance in life, and I had a second chance, I wouldn’t have been employing 60,000 people, I suspect, if I had spent 2 or 3 months in prison. If you give people a second chance they can do great things. And I think if you can give people the dignity of work when they leave prison, if you don’t just dump them on the street and tell them to make their own way to the nearest city.