Be brave and think differently Richard Branson tells entrepreneurs at GEC 2012

Undoubtedly one of the most respected and inspirational entrepreneurs to come out of the UK, Branson wowed the crowd speaking about his many achievements in business, from setting up a student magazine to launching Virgin Records on a shoestring and later taking on the might of BA when he launched Virgin Atlantic.

Never one to set his sights low, he takes thinking big to extremes whether it's battling Coca Cola for market share or sending missions of elder statesman including Nelson Mandela to resolve conflicts in war torn countries.

Virgin would not be as great as it is, he said, had it not been for taking risks and daring to be different, as he did when he launched Virgin Records. "We didn't have any money so we had to come up with different ideas. With our record shops we would hand out leaflets, selling cut-price records, outside concert halls, people would send in money and then we'd try to negotiate discounts with record companies," he said. "Cash flow is everything and sometimes you just have to be imaginative."

His advice to the audience of entrepreneurs was simple: to focus on people. "You need to hire people who can almost do your job. I did that and it gave me the opportunity to think about the next thing and leave them to do the job. Be brave because you need somebody who can do the nitty gritty so you can look at the bigger picture," he said.

"Give them the freedom to do things - people leave companies because they don't get the opportunity to do things. Some things they will do better than you and others they won't do as well as you."

Virgin Unite, his latest venture, puts doing good while doing well at the heart of business. "There is a great responsibility for anyone wo is lucky enough to be successful to give back - by giving talks, raising money for charity and sharing ideas with new budding entrepreneurs. It's so important to encourage the next generation," he said.

"I don't think most people who focus on making a lot of money actually do make a lot," said Branson. "You need to think what idea you have that can make a difference to other people's lives and if it is making a difference hopefully you'll have more money coming in than you have going out."

The theme of GEC is to unleash the potential of tomorrow's entrepreneurs and it is also on Branson's radar as he suggested the government launch an entrepreneur loan scheme as an alternative to student loans.

"If somebody goes to university they get a student loan, but those who don't want to go to university they may have a great idea and that would be a fantastic way of kick-starting thousands of new businesses," he said. "It is the entrepreneurs who start up new business and drive the major job creation of the future."

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