Branson Makes His Peace

JASON DAVIS/New University

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the Orange County Center for Living Peace brought another celebrity to the UCI Student Center as a part of its Living Peace Series. Through the course of the series, these speakers bring forward their knowledge and experience in talking about the causes that are the closest to their hearts, in the hopes of inspiring similar interests in the attendees. During the second of three speakers, The Center for Living Peace brought forward the media mogul and eccentric multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin International, who spent the roughly one hour segment speaking on the topic of entrepreneurism and charity.

Sir Branson, who attended the talks wearing what appeared to be a costume out of the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, began by speaking about goals and challenges.

“I’m sure that every single person in this room wanted to prove something to themselves, to strive to achieve something special, and initially you make relatively small challenges and try to take those on … If you manage to take those on, you can go on to greater and greater challenges,” Branson said.

Sir Branson, whose infamous attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot-air balloon ended with a helicopter rescue, also commented, “I’m sure that you can achieve things without taking risks. But if you really want to make a difference, you have to be willing to land flat on your face on occasions.”

The majority of the talk was focused on the entrepreneur. Branson focused on the ideal that the successful businessman should also take some of that wealth and place it back into the community.

“If every business in this world thought … let’s now be a force of good rather than a force for the shareholders to make money, most of the problems of this world can be solved.”

Sir Branson pushed his message as one of responsibility — while a successful business owner might feel entitled to whatever wealth he or she earns, with such wealth, an enormous responsibility is placed on the shoulders of that business owner.

After the initial discourse, a short question-and-answer session followed, in which questions ranging from robots and space ships to an ill-timed business proposition by one attendee that drew nervous laughter were asked. While the amount of time was short, and not every question could be answered, most of the questions focused on how to succeed as an entrepreneur, and how to help after achieving that success.

“Everyone will tell you you’re wrong,” Branson responded to one such question. “The only way to prove them wrong is to go out and do it.”

After the short one-hour session ended, Sir Branson and his entourage headed to the OC Living Peace Center in the University Town Center, where a special VIP gala was held, where tickets were estimated to cost between $3,000 and $5,000 a piece. All proceeds from the VIP event went 100 percent towards the Virgin Unite service organization.

According to Rebecca Hendrickson, a staff member at the Living Peace Center, the gala is simply one piece of a larger puzzle. The VIP event, she explained, engages local philanthropists who have the resources to help in that way. The working groups, on the other hand, were focused around bringing the community together to create new service projects.

The Center helps to support the projects in their planning and implementation stages. While Sir Branson’s engagement resulted in more young professionals focusing on topics like how business can be a force for good, the previous series with Charlize Theron brought a range of volunteers from girl scouts to college students to brainstorm projects for her Africa Outreach Project. Both events had galas in which proceeds were used to support each speaker’s charity initiatives. The next event in the series, which involves the 14th Dalai Lama, will likely not involve a gala. He is scheduled to appear at the Bren Events Center on May 4.

Branson left with a simple and comical message. He recited a quote he had once said in the past. “I believe in myself. I believe in the hands that work. I believe in brains that think. And in the hearts that love.”

Branson, whose current aspirations include going into space, responded with a mischievous smile.

“Those are nice words, though I can’t remember actually saying them. I must have been stoned.”