I’ve always seen Richard Branson as quite a nice guy really. I remember he was on Mariah Carey’s Cribs episode once and a random cameo in Friends. As a kid, I saw him as a kind of friendly genius, his company name was everywhere but he wasn’t a normal businessman, he had a flowy shirt and a big smile. He was to me what Elon Musk thinks he is now to everyone. But he wasn’t.
Branson has been one of the top targets for stick during Corona season. He was one of the first business owners to publicly ask for help from the government, which when you’re worth £4.7bn it’s easy for people to think you’re taking the piss. There was then the “staff to work for 8 weeks unpaid” announcement which still sounds kind of unbelievable.
Imagine sitting across him at his golden desk and he asks you that. “Oh, go on, you can manage.” What was finally agreed was workers would have to take eight weeks of unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary. Hard work to manage but a welcomed difference to losing your job.
A lot has been said about him being able to pay for all this himself. We can do the sums; I’ve done the sums. 8571 employees at Virgin Airlines, 100 quid-ish a week, 8 weeks. £6,856, 800. Branson explained in his open letter that he can’t just go the cash machine and get billions out but even if he has a tenth of his worth available down the back of the sofa? This would amount to him using less than 2% of his ‘fleible income.’ To fund his own company, remember.
While we’re on the letter we may as well stick with why this has posed a dilemma for me. It’s because I actually quite liked it. I read it and went back to that kid that thought he seemed like a nice bloke – better than your average billionaire. He’s doing it to save all these jobs and the socialist on my shoulder says this is important. He explains how he has helped the NHS in the past, the truth behind why he felt forced to ‘sue’ them and they’re helping with the construction of ventilators and PPE. Plus look at his lovely smile, he looks so friendly.
“How funny would it be if this island became some kind of government expense because Branson missed a couple of payments?”
A big winner for me was the loan vs grant exception. He’s not asking for free money; he understands he needs to pay it back and he’s even offering up some collateral. How funny would it be if this island became some kind of government expense because Branson missed a couple of payments? I think the details of this loan would need to be made public and if he pays interest on it, like any other business would in times of hardship, it might be worth the risk. There’s a lot of if’s and buts involved and it’s whether the government has the cahonies to follow through.
As well as this, the letter, in itself, struck me as weirdly honourable. Branson is absolutely Brewstied but he’s a beggar to the likes of Zuckerberg and Bezos and they don’t get any stick. This is, of course, because he’s British and close enough to hit with our metaphorical stick but he falls into the same anti-tax group as the big boys. The rule for these guys is keep your head down and count the money, addressing the situation is against protocol. So, for speaking out and explaining his situation, in a twisted way, I respect him.
“In his eyes, his bank balance is separate to Virgin’s, but in the public’s, they will always be intertwined”
He is a businessman at the end of the day. He is a very good businessman who is doing his uttermost to ensure he doesn’t take a hit for his business’ rough patch. In his eyes, his bank balance is separate to Virgin’s, but in the public’s, they will always be intertwined. As well as this, say he did drop that 7 million, even if that is a fraction of his wealth it is still 7 million – a lot of money. Some people never get to the point where they realise they’re capable to stop being a tight arse.
So, in many ways this letter really did help me empathise with the mind of Richard Branson. I can now at least see where he’s coming from and I’m glad he’s starting the dialogue rather than reacting angrily to his criticism. But (not going to suck up to him that much am I) he’s still taking the piss really.
“I live on Necker because I love the BVI” so it’s just a happy coincidence it allows you to not pay into the public pot. It doesn’t matter if the 8 weeks unpaid was “virtually unanimously” agreed upon, if you give someone the choice of eating their own shit or jumping off a cliff, they’re going to have smelly breath. And it’s his bloody company, they are HIS responsibility. Failing all that he’s got a cheek asking for help anyway after saying the British government “would be better to wait for its demise” when talking about British Airways making losses only 10 years ago. Yes, the situation is different but don’t fly planes in glass houses and all that.
I keep changing my mind. I’ll probably write another status about the bloke tomorrow praising his humility bla bla bla but at the end of the day the angry socialist on my shoulder is winning this argument. And he’s telling me if you don’t pay your taxes you don’t get the kind of help from the system. Especially if you’re a billionaire.
By Sean Wise