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?

Share

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

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

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Assistant Marketing & PR Manager

£16 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Systems Developer Technical Lead

£65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
James Foley's murder by Isis has shocked the West  

Today Isis is attacking the Middle East. Tomorrow it’ll be the West

James Bloodworth
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment