Richard Branson is gone. So where are the new Bransons?

Business has lost faith in itself – where are its leaders now it's greatest recent entrepeneur has left the UK?


Is Sir Richard Branson a producer or a predator? A case can be made for either label. But sceptics will not have been surprised to learn that the founder of the Virgin business empire has now formally set up his (tax-efficient) home on his private Caribbean island of Necker – which is, naturally, part of the British Virgin Islands – after saying he has already lived there for seven years. He maintains, however, that he has not left Britain for tax reasons.

First, he sold the west London mansion. Now the Oxfordshire estate has been offloaded to his children. Faced with a choice between long, wet winters in the UK and sunny days on Necker, the 63-year-old billionaire has opted for the latter. It’s not hard to follow his thinking.

Anita Roddick is dead, and Branson has departed these shores. This leaves only Lord Sugar as the favourite “unprompted” name to emerge from focus groups when they are asked to identify a leading business figure. And this is not good news.

The thoughtful, practical case for business is not being made. Business leaders, by and large, keep their heads down. And when they do speak up the results are not always convincing. Look at the reaction of the energy companies to Labour’s proposed 20-month freeze on the bills to be paid by customers. Has there been a serious attempt to engage with the argument? Of course not. Instead there have been mumbled threats of blackouts and investment strikes – even as some of the energy giants launch new deals offering a “price freeze” for two or three years.

In the high street, mobile phone operators promise a service that may or may not live up to the sales pitch. Coffee chains sell expensive, oversized but underflavoured cups of coffee. Try and catch a train and see how much you’ll pay for the privilege of standing for an hour or two. And meanwhile we are hounded in our homes (and increasingly on our mobiles) by cold callers claiming they can save us money, for a fee.

In the past, plausible figures known as “captains of industry” spoke up and were counted. They conveyed a sense of business being a constructive and worthwhile part of life. Peter Parker, John Harvey-Jones and Arnold Weinstock, among others, were household names. Now only WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell seems ready to get stuck into debate on a regular basis. Business, it seems, has lost faith in itself and lacks the confidence to make its case. For more evidence of this look no further than the latest ad for the Halifax, which uses up three-quarters of its precious (and costly) airtime describing the life of an air hostess, before finally (and sheepishly) admitting that the Halifax is, in fact, a bank.

We may miss seeing Sir Richard Branson on our screens but, in truth, he is due a break. It is time that other business leaders made themselves known. Businesses cannot complain about what politicians do to them if they are not prepared to explain publicly what they are for, and what they are trying to do.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor in management practice at Cass Business School, London

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - North West - OTE £40k

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron and Ed Miliband officially launched their election campaigns yesterday after Parliament was dissolved  

All-or-nothing simplicities are going to blight this election

John Rentoul

If I Were Prime Minister: Every civil servant would be held accountable by their own civilian 'buddy'

Julia Hobsbawm
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor