Bob Schieffer interviews Richard Branson at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Some of the most inspired and provocative thinkers, writers, artists, business people, teachers and other leaders drawn from myriad fields and from across the country and around the world all gathered in a single place - to teach, speak, lead, question, and answer at the 2006 Aspen Ideas Festival. Throughout the week, they all interacted with an audience of thoughtful people who stepped back from their day-to-day routines to delve deeply into a world of ideas, thought, and discussion.
Richard Branson is founder and chairman of the UK-based Virgin Group, Ltd., which includes international music megastores and companies in air travel, mobile communications, finance, retail, music, Internet, drinks, railroad, and hotels and leisure, with approximately 200 businesses and brands in more than 30 countries and revenues exceeding $7.2 billion. The award-winning Virgin Atlantic Airways, which he formed in 1984, is now the second largest British long-haul international airline. In addition to his business activities, Sir Richard is a trustee of several charities, including the Virgin Healthcare Foundation, a leading health care charity that has raised over Â£100 million.
Bob Lloyd Schieffer is an American journalist who has been with CBS News since 1969, serving 23 years as anchor on the Saturday edition of CBS Evening News from 1973-1996; chief Washington correspondent since 1982, moderator of the Sunday public affairs show Face the Nation since 1991, and, between March of 2005 and August 31, 2006, interim weekday anchor of the CBS Evening News. Katie Couric, formerly of NBC's The Today Show, succeeded Schieffer as anchor on September 5, 2006.
Schieffer is one of the few journalists to have covered all four of the major Washington national assignments: the White House, The Pentagon, United States Department of State, and United States Congress. His career with CBS has almost exclusively dealt with national politics.
asicdesign you are completely on point with that comment. The fact he started with a vision has allowed him to pursue the impossible. Who can say whether or not Virgin Galactic will fail? In the end, that isn't Branson's concern... he'd rather just give it his best.
Good morning everyone and I think we are all going to have a good time this morning.You know, we had an interview with Lance Armstrong in this building last night sirRichard, and I said if there was one thing that sort of some came up, it was he just keepson, keeping on, it seem to me. If I and I was thinking what I would say that sort ofyou from what I know of you, and this is our first meeting. It would be can you top this? Idon't think I have ever read a biography of anyone that I frankly that ever found moreinteresting, and and that you have done so much and so so many different areas andfields. I want to just start with being I have a hard news guy, I kind of want to start withthe news this morning. I think a lot of people in America were were shaken somewhatto read if the recent terror attacks in Britain. And then the news yesterday that seven ofthe eight terrorist were medical doctors were being brought in to Britain to work in theNational Health Service. I just wonder give us your sense of how Britain is reacting toall of this, and what do you think this means?Anyway, thank you very much for coming in with your interest, and well obviously and itwas a devastating devastating news and only balanced by the fact that they wereunsuccessful, and I think that you know, there are there are many people in Britain whoworks were against the Iraqi war, they thought it was a terrible mistake. And and youknow, my own belief is that that those terrorist would not be in England would behaven't gone to war in Iraq, and I think I think a lot of people in Britain you know, feelfeel the same. I think you know, if we concentrated our efforts on Afghanistan, andconcentrate our efforts on going after Al Qaeda, I think a lot of this backlash wouldn'thave taken place. And they obviously chose doctors, because that was a way in whichthey could get passed the immigration and department, and its obviously very worryingand very disturbing that seven doctors could feel that strongly, and that what you know,what America and Britain had engaged and that they would they would and to put their lives at risk.It really takes to kind of a different level that does and these are not ignorant desperatepeople who see that they have no hope in the world, so they just say why don't we justkill ourselves. These are educated people and as I understand that the immigration ruleshave been pretty lax in the past for doctors almost any doctor who wanted to come intoBritain and work in the National Health Service could get in, do you will see this therewill be a change in will there is the impact on the National Health Service?I said anything like this that this is always going to be you know, horrible backlashes and1000s of innocent people are going to be affected by it, I don't think it will affect theNational Health Service because this is actually selected doctors in the UK. And mydaughter became doctor two days ago and as she getting a job as a doctor in UK isdifficult to the moment so so I don't think that is that is issue. And I think in a moredisturbingly is that you know, this was obviously a very, very well organized and youknow, people talked about being amateurish, and the actual the actual setting of thedevice was amateurish but it was obviously incredibly well organized and and fromoverseas, and and the worrying thing is that you know, the America could be equally aswell what happening in America as it is in Britain at the moment.I I want to get to talking about some other things you are doing right now, but I think alot of people here this morning would be interested you know, for long time for years,now we all got in kind of used to Tony Blair. Now there is a new prime minister. Whatyour take on Gordon Brown?Well he hasn't got the same overt charisma as Tony Blair, and but I mean he is a very,very sound man who has been Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain along than anybodyis ever been Chancellor of the Exchequer and so he knows the ins and outs of are runninga country and extremely well, and you know, 10 years ago before Tony Blair becamePrime Minister, and he was complete toss up is to which one of them is going to becomePrime Minister at the time, and you know, the people believe that that Gordon said willkey to the first term and to the second term and it's a little bit of acrimony took placewhen Tony didn't step down. And that I think we are very fortunate to have and to havesomebody of his stature running our country and I would say you know, I think he is thekind of individual they would not have gone into the Iraqi wars, I think you know, he ishe is you know, he is I don't think he will make any glossily mistakes and any terribleforeign policy decisions.Do you see any difference in the relationship between the United States and Great Britain?I don't think so its I mean they the relationship between Great Britain and United Statesis being you know, as strong as you know, maybe you even being too strong in one or twodecisions but that that a very strong you know, for enormous for very long time I don'tknow why we ever lost this beautiful country its a big mistake. They and but anyway wewill despite that fact, it is very strong and it will stay strong. And that you know, but Ithink if the American president going to make a bad decision is important that weshouldn't blindly blindly follow in the future.I want to get back most most people in America I think identify youwith Virgin Air andand but ofcourse you are you and maybe its truly an empire guess its much muchbroader than that news reports, and now The Carlyle Group had just made a offer in theprocess of making some kind of offer to buy a Virgin communications which is your cableTV and communications company something that other $20 million offer they are talkingand that's what the news paper said is there anything you can tell us about that or want totell us about that?Well I cant that you talk about that specific but because I don't I don't show that I goto prison in America but anyway definitely yet I would get into big trouble if I did that andthat we are having a fascinating battle with with Rupert Murdoch in the UK and he isdominant in both television and the media itself, andHe has got a couple of things in this country.And he has got a couple of things in this country too and you know, they wanted to stationsin this country that and you know, I think quite worryingly that I seem to sort of in a rathergung ho support you know, the government in anyway that's by the way but in Britain youknow, he is definitely very dominant, and I think he can he can actually decide you know,who the next prime minister is almost. And and so you know, we are trying to get thecompetition authorities in the government went to being on the competition is used withinthe competition battles, and try to get the government to be brave and to align in the sand,not letting and continue to get more and more powerful, and I expect in America and thatAmerica should beware you know, when any when any entrepreneur when gets toopowerful and any one particular sector is not good for the consumer its actually not goodfor and for and free speech and and I think its quite dangerous for a democracy.I want to go back to your first business of venture, I understand that you formed your firstcompany when you were 16 years old, you you left school because you not doing very well in school?It's a good reason to leave.And it turned out that you were dyslexic and that and that was kind of that at the base ofyour problems, what what move do you to did suddenly go into business at the age of 16and and you became a successful businessman before you were 21. What happenedthere? What was that all about?Well I never being interested in being a businessman per se I have being interested increating things and as a 15 year old and I was frustrated about the way we have beingtaught at school and I was frustrated about the Vietnamese war is when a lot of young werein those days and there were a lot of things going on in the world that I distributed that Iother students disagreed with, and and I decided to leave the school to setup a magazineto try to you know, run by young people who tried to give young people their voice, andand the magazine became you know, I didn't have any money, but I manage to sell enoughadvertising to cover the printing and the paper cost, and the magazine became quite a bigsuccess, but in that process as much as I would like to be in the editor, I soon found that, inorder to survive, I had to become, an entrepreneur I had to worry about the printing andthe paper and the distribution and make sure it survived, and and that in the sense eversince then I mean I have seen situations which I mean, you know the airline business, it wasyou know 21 years ago, it was dreadful, and in some countries its still dreadful. And thatthey they but you know, it was you know you know you got in the plane, you had thechicken dumps in your lap that you are lucky, and you know they the seats wereuncomfortable and the steward airhostess and steward never smiled and they obviouslyhappy with their jobs, and they went happy with the tools, that they were given and and Iand I spend a lot of time flying on planes, that I had a record company and I called upBoeing I think I have said my name is Richard Branson, and I would like to buy asecondhand 747, and they said, what did you say your company was called? I said thenVirgin and you know the company that brought you the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stonesand but any way to give them to give them credit, they said okay, look you know wewill we will give you a guide, as long as as long as I unlike your name, your airline is goingto go the whole way.Well, I want to go back I want to go back a little bit to do Virgin records, because fromthe magazine and so forth you got in you really got into the record distribution business,you took a lot of chances, you signed some groups like the Sex Pistols and other groups andother people didn't want to take a chance on and you made an enormous success of that.Tell me, what is your business model? You said you are not interested in being a businessman, you are interested in creating things, when you start to create some thing or you startto buy a company, what is that you look for? What do you trying to do?Well we don't really to buy companies, we almost almost all of our companies werestarted from scratch, so we find you know, first, we we look at the business and if we thinkit's you know as I said before the airline business we think thing is being badly run, wethink can we go and shake up an industry? Can we make sure that if we come into thatindustry we will never be the same again after we have been into it, and then we you knowget wonderful people around this, we give them the stake in the companies, that they canrun the company as it was their own company, and we give them a lot of freedom to makemistakes, as well as to make you know good things, and I normally you know we are goingto spend three months completely immersing myself in the industry, and so I can learn theindustry before it starts, and then and then we give it to go, and I think that as long as we,you know as long as we have very different to the compelled is almost we are offering youknow, much better quality than they committed and much better value for money, we willwe will succeed and more often not only seems to work out.And you have never been afraid I mean, the understatement that you have never been afraidhave a little fun along the way, I would add, were some of these adventures that you, Imean it's just unbelievable, you said a speed record was going across the Atlantic in a boat,then you go across the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, you said some sort of a record goingacross the channel. Every time we turned around, so Richard Branson is setting some newkind of record and some new kind of adventure. How does that, I mean this is a just a partof you like being an entrepreneur is a part of you? What causes you to do this?Well, I was good as enough you know, I mean I I love the challenge and you know thisis an adventurous streak in us all and I think British people in particularly you know, if youlook at the history of you know Britain you know, you go to the Antarctic, you got peoplewho really like to see what they capable of and push you know, push the limits, and youknow, if some body comes along to me and says you know I think we can may be rest ofthe blue ribbon of the Americans who held that for number of years for the fastest crossingthe Atlantic that -- that you know, we will keep it to go, and if somebody says you know,nobody is ever flying across the Atlantic in a hot air balloon that I think I can build theballoon and fly in the Jet stream with 200 miles an hour and and I didn't -- in Italy so weI asked him if he had any children he said I said okay keep it go, and but the consequenceof that was that I have been pulled out of the sea, six times by helicopters and Iremembered I remember before the before the first the first crossing the Atlantic byboat and somebody said you know, what if the boats sinks is not going to you know, wehave just started an airline, it's not going to look very good if you got you know, if the boatsank and and anyway then about you know, three weeks later, I was picked up bybanana boat out of the sea heading back to Jamaica after the boat had sank and I lookedout to see the Virgin sign on the bit of the boat it was still sink on the water I think I thinkI remembering this guys words anyway but somehow it didn't seem to to I mean the theairline for a full page I didn't saying next time Richard you know there is another wayacross the Atlantic.Well I must say all the adventures and all the great ideas you have had certainly I I guessaudacious would be one way to put it, your project now to start up space tours to take touriststourists in the outer space, tell us about that and -- and are you really serious about this andwhere are you? Where are you in this project right now?Well I go back a bit because it might be quite interesting example of how we how welook at business sectors and in 1991, I mean I watch the moon landing I am old enough towatch that I was being inspired by at that time, and I assume having seen the moon landingthat I would be able to go to space in my life time, because it you know, a teenager at thetime but you know, decade by decade went by NASA wont open their doors to you andme, and so I thought you know, NASA needed some competition. They they needed tobe to be a company they could actually offer people the chance for going to space. Say1991 we formed the company Virgin Galactic Airways we liked the name and and I thensetoff around the world to meet every zany mad scientists I could define who was interestedin rockets and space technology. And and you know, the the most incredible of thecontradiction one day I should write a book about some of them but anyway, and thenfinally came across [0:17:51] ____ Tom who is a genius and the best engineering genius,space genius, I am sorry aviation genius in the world, and and he was just in a developingspace ship1, and so we agreed to sponsor spaceship1 within and we watch the you know,the three magnificent flights in spaceship1, and and then using that technology, we arenow building spaceship2 which is twice as big as spaceship1. And the mother ship is twiceas big as the the original mother ship and and in a year from now and it will be it willgoing its going its first test flight in 18 months from now and you know, myself, mychildren and my parents you know, God willing, we will go up in this in the first flight and itit will be the I think it started really exciting new air and space space travel.Now, how far will you go into space? Where does it go?The initial flights will go about 70 miles in the space, so basically you will takeoff, you willgo up to 60,000 feet you will be attached under the mother ship, you then drop away, youthen have the biggest rush of your life from from north to three and a half --The biggest rush of your life and - I'm not sure of my life.My selling is not quite working right now. From north to three and a half thousand miles anhour in 10 seconds, and and then in space you will unbuckle and it has got enormous bigwindows you will have to float around looking back at the earth and and both has comeup with this were really unique device which is basically what you call as featheringmechanism its an you know, it comes back into the earth's atmosphere like a shuttle cork.And and which slows it up. So you don't have the the problems that NASA has with itsreentry, and the perfect system. And then and then once you are back into the thisatmosphere, that you will be turns back into a spaceship and you come back down toearth and and then, - and then that you know, if you got a mother-in-law, we can alwayssort out we you know one-way tickets.What will and you decide to get how much is your charge?What would a ticket cost, first class ticket ofcourse?Well for us foreigners I mean, the dollar is quite weak and [0:20:37] ____ quite cheap.But but anyway, now the initial the initial the flights will be $200,000.200?And a mileYou get miles? You get -It might be you know that if you had well. You you know, actually you are going to ifyou are if you all take a advice and if get miles we can and arrange the miles.You know, but, if you and if you if you actually do a couple of there was a million ortwo million miles of Virgin Galactic, if you get a you get a space ticket we have actuallyhad three or four people to fly a lot in Virgin Galactic going into space.Have you had anybody sign up yet?You look so surprised. The first 100 the 100 the 100 people, we had a we hadexclusive first 100, they were signed up and and then we got about 40,000 people whopaid small deposits. So, there is there is enormous interest for it. And then, - and I think itI think the exiting, the the exiting thing about it is that its not just you know, thesethese flights I think its already is the beginning of you know, we have we have gothundred of the best engineer of America working on it. And the the next stage that thatthey will also be able to sent satellites into space into orbit at a fraction of the price thatcurrently people can send them to orbit. And and the both both are spaceflights and thesatellite fights almost completely environmentally benign. So, you know, we actually manageto develop it. So, I mean, the NASA in NASA spaceship is almost two weeks of NewYork's electricity supply when its goes up, so so that's I think very positive. And what Iam looking at looking and seeing whether we can develop flights from New York toAustralia in half an hour. And it and it sounds and it may be unbelievable. But but thatthat's the next stage there we can just brought the spaceships to up into the out of thisatmosphere and then straight back down again. And and the only problem is the air-portswhich we still have to get through that. And and then the next stage is is hotels in space,which which were in in the process of developing so that theI mean you really are?All right, absolutely serious, then I used to enjoy April fools and nobody really believes I talkedon space for the last April fools day. And that's and you know, with the idea thatpeople go to the hotel and and then, we will have a you know, that we we are lookingat buildings, small little spaceships, two men spaceships with glass tops where you whichwe can program to pop you you know, pull you around with by the moons gravityaround the moon so you can just go a 100 foot about the moon surround and then back tothe hotel. So anyway we are dreaming, that we are that we are working on it and andwhether all this happens in our lifetime lets see that the that the that the first stage of thiswill definitely happen in the lifetime.Fascinating well, we'll go to the audience for ask some questions. I'll tell you. I will ask acouple or more questions while you all are thinking some questions. I am sure you havesome, the microphones are here and there. So you talked about the Vietnam war had animpact on you. You obviously have a political side and you are very interested in currentevents and not just interested, but willing to do things about it. One thing I think a lot ofpeople don't know you were part of a group before the Iraq war actually began. Kind ofan international group, that was trying to find a way to hit off that war. I am told that thatgroup is still sort to working behind the scene. So, what can you tell us about that?Well, I mean the reason we went to war in Iraq, was to get rid of a a horrendous dictaterof Saddam Hussein. And it wasn't to mainly kill a million people. And and the war mustbe a last result. And so, you know, if I step back once stage, Idi Idi Amin was doingterrible things in Uganda. And the international community manages to persuade him to stepdown and to go and live in Saudi Arabia. And as a result of extracting him from Uganda,putting him to Saudi Arabia, Uganda became a democracy and it's a flourishing country andit's a great example to the world of clever diplomacy. And so so about two monthsbefore it looked inevitable to American, Britain were going to invade Iraq. And we satdown and thought, you know, how how can it be avoided? There there must be analternative to war. And and Mandela had had spoken out against the war. And andSaddam Hussein was effectively a trapped animal, he wasn't been given anyway of averting awar. There was no way of you know, no way out. And so, what we felt was if we couldcould get somebody that that Saddam Hussein respected, a a great figure like NelsonMandela to go and see him. And actually fly out with him to Libya where you know wecould arrange a house for him to live in. Mandela could may be persuade SaddamHussein that you know, you can save your people misery, you can save your own life, youcan your you can you will still have a chance in history and you know the alternativeis you know, you are going to die. And and you are going to your country is going toend up a mess. And so, I spoke with Mandela, and he said that if we can get Kofi Annanand his blessing he would go, and I spoke with Kofi Annan and he said that he would hewould give him his blessing and in fact he would be willing to go with him, if it helps and Itold to tell him that and he said he would give him his blessings as well. And I am very sadthat the plane was sent to Africa and the bombing started so it never happened, now itmay it may have come to nothing, but there there needs to be alternative ways to war.We need to we need to try to exhaust every alternative way in the future before webefore we do something like this again. And we are looking to see whether we can learnfrom the lessons of that to see whether you know, there could be a group of elders thatcould continue to do work like that after Mandela is gone. And that's that's somethingthat's something which might might be a possibility I think.Very interesting.