Hi, guys. Richard here. Hey, I was totally gobsmacked to be asked to contribute this key celebrity thought for the beginning of Lent. And really honoured. I mean that.
It's a heavy time, Lent. I'm well known for respecting everyone's religion – the way I see it, we're all consumers, no matter which god we happen to worship – but the Lent thing speaks to us all.
The original Lent was when a bearded man, dressed in casual clothes, went into the wilderness to consider his options. He was set to become one of the most respected and loved personalities of all time. He literally saved the world.
I can relate to that. Whenever I can, I say to my wife, "Let's get away to a real wilderness, maybe get the kids along." Within hours, we're in my jet heading for an exclusive, unspoilt holiday destination. That's the Branson way. Ideas are nothing without action. It's why I called my book of personal philosophy Screw It – Let's Do It!
Life isn't a rehearsal. It's the real thing.
So, Lent. Let's brainstorm this one. The first thing I did when I got this Celebrity Thought for the Day gig was to get my people together for a meeting. I always do that – involve my trusted gang in my decisions. Why? Because in the world of Richard Branson, me is we. The way I see it, we're all in this together.
At the meeting, we do our usual group hug, then get down to work. It's a good meeting. We talk green, we talk profit, we talk sustainability, we talk presentation. There's only one down moment. An older guy, George, forgets himself and says, "Since Lent is all about giving up things, how about us trying to keep Virgin out of the newspapers for 40 days?"
My people go very, very quiet.
"I mean," says George, little beads of sweat appearing on his forehead, "humility is good, right?"
"George." I speak with genuine regret in my voice. "This meeting is all about positivity. You are seriously crashing my vibe."
He stands up. "Maybe I'll do some work in my office," he says.
"Office?" I give him my trademark smile. "Which office is that? The only office you're going to is at the Job Centre where they'll say, 'Aren't you the guy who was negative in front of Sir Richard Branson? How does sweeping the streets sound to you?'"
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was upsetting. Here's the thing, though. I can guarantee that pretty soon George will be thanking Richard Branson. I put him on a learning curve. It took him to the scrapheap. Now he can start again.
The 1,000 Northern Rock employees we've decided to let go will thank us, too. At the end of the day, we're giving them an opportunity – the opportunity to look for a new career.
Meantime, back at the meeting, we're in full kick-ass mode on the Lent thing.
"Let's be counter-intuitive, guys," I suggest modestly. They listen intently as I flesh out my concept. "Old Lent is about giving up things. How about New Lent being about taking things up, consuming in a creative way?"
There is a smattering of applause from around the table.
"There was an old God, right, who was omnipresent – like, all around us. What is all around us today? Virgin. Our brand is associated with all that's good and green and profitable and let's not forget fun."
Now we were cooking. "Screw it, let's do it," someone says, punching the air.
"But wait." As if by magic, my words brought silence to the room. "If Virgin is the new God, who is the new Jesus Christ?"
And suddenly the whole gang were looking at me!
"Guys, please." I laugh disarmingly. "Alpha and Omega? The way, the truth and the light? The Messiah? Me? Come on, let's get real."
But I've taught my gang well. When they get an idea, they stick to it big-time.
New Lent. New Jesus. New Virgin. A whole rebranding thing. Let's do it, yeah?