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.
If you give them a chance to stand on their own two feet, make people realize that they’re loved and that they’re cared for. And I thought what the lady said earlier about looking forward not looking back is fantastic. So I think as many companies as possible need to get out there and take people on and give them a chance, and I think they’ll be surprised how successful it is.
Scott Budnick: Thank you.
So, some might say employing someone coming out of prison is a risk. Some might argue it isn’t. I read you sold Virgin Records which was your core business and leaped into the airline business which was not your core business and that was a risk.
We have a couple of hundred inmates sitting in the crowd today that took some stupid risks and have made some good decisions. What advice would you give them in terms of what risks are worth taking and what risks aren’t?
Richard Branson: Well, look, I’ve met maybe 50 or 100 fairly superficially when I came in. And it’s fantastic that I think pretty well everybody in this room is studying.
Because a), I think it will make their time in prison a lot more interesting to study. And b), it’s going to give them that much better a chance of getting a good job when they get out. It may even turn them into an entrepreneur. Basically an entrepreneur is somebody who comes up with an idea that can improve other people’s lives and make their lives better. That’s all a business is.
And I think, you people got time here to think about when they get out, do they have a hobby? What could they do to make other people’s lives better? And so possibly, rather than working for somebody else people here could actually start a business when they leave. And start in a small way.