Well, I unexpectedly created much more interest yesterday in my comment about Sir Richard Branson than I’d ever expected - thank you!
As promised to 200+ of you (and counting!), here’s the story.
It was the summer of 1992.
In Britain, the highlight of the business year is the Institute of Directors
Annual Convention, held at the wonderful Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, central London.
Not only was I a member of the Institute, but also a journalist and had the opportunity to interview 2 of the speakers.
One was a bit unknown, an 26 year old American called William H Gates. I’d heard of him, a bit. He was the same age as me. (He still is come to think of it …).
I’d better go off on a tangent here and tell you what his story too!
He’d started some computer software company called “Microsoft”.
Now, I was computer mad, Sinclair ZX81 and Spectrums got me started, but Microsoft was a bit beyond me.
He was very chatty. He’d explained in his speech that he’d started dating a lady (Melinda, who he married two years later).
Nothing unusual about that.
Except they were virtual dates.
They’d go and see the same movie, but because they were a long way apart, they would then discuss the movie over the phone.
I’d never heard of that.
And neither had any of the thousands of British company directors who were present!
My journalistic interest was piqued.
I also learned from the PR team the reason that he’d arrived late in London from Seattle.
He’d missed his flight (I was asked not to reveal why) and had rented a jet and it was waiting at Heathrow airport to take him straight back to Seattle.
This was something else - I’d never heard of such a thing. Reminder: this was 1992!
We got on really well.
He’d not met many “Brits” and was delighted to be in London, even for 3 hours.
A charming man, strange accent, very focussed, clearly very much in love.
He made for a great feature in the UK press, thanks to me. I had no idea he would end up so rich, so famous, though. Hindsight, eh?
Anyway back to Richard (as he was then!). He was living on a boat on the River Thames (which is actually quite an expensive thing to do!).
He worked out of offices in nearby Notting Hill, where’s he still has his London HQ’s.
Inevitably, my questions turned to wealth creation. He was pretty well-off in those days, with numerous businesses.
He’d just started an airline and had tons of problems with British Airways, who he successfully accused of “Dirty Tricks”, (read about that here
) just as had happened to his predecessor and hero, Sir Freddie Laker (fabulous chap, I loved him to pieces!)
He said “Alun, do you want to know how to become a millionaire the easy way?”
My eyes lit up.
I moved my tape recorder (real tape, huge batteries!) a little closer.
“It’s easy” he kindly advised, as he stroked his short beard, with his famous eyes a'twinkling, watching me.
“Become a billionaire. Then start an airline.”
“You can easily become a millionaire over night”
Sir Richard sold almost the last of the shares in Virgin Atlantic last week to an Air France / KLM / Alitalia combination, so I can now tell you this story.
Great guy. Helped hundreds of real entrepreneurs over the years.