As head of a company, what’s your view on an imminent recovery from recession?
Richard Branson: I have always been a “green shoots without roots” man, talking up the recovery without necessarily knowing when or where it would start. The past few weeks, I’ve noticed some signs that confidence – albeit muted – is coming back. The stock market is up, the pound has recovered and I keep reading that house prices have bottomed out.But it’s not all moonlight and roses, right?
Richard Branson: All consumer-facing businesses will have problems forecasting future spending and demand. Virgin’s companies have proved very resilient during the recent downturn but there’s no doubt the travel sector has been hit hard by this lack of certainty and we have to plan accordingly and be very conservative in our estimates.What do you make of our government’s response to the situation?
Richard Branson: At the moment, some of the rising business taxes are worrying me. I am very concerned by the jump in the Advanced Passenger Tax, which I feel is a misdirected and poorly calculated piece of legislation. It will really damage the UK travel industry and I worry about its wider impact on UK plc.
What would you have done?
Richard Branson: We need less bureaucracy, more attractive taxation rules for business builders, a revitalised private equity sector to back new companies and some co-ordinated investment in infrastructure and transport. We also need to encourage more competition among banks again. This will need careful stewardship from government, as its UKFI owns a number of banks or has stakes in others. We need to move these stakes into private ownership to stimulate competition and hopefully provide more attractive lending to small businesses and consumers alike.
Are you tempted to get into politics and do it yourself?
Richard Branson: I don’t believe that businesspeople should be overtly political. I’m happy to take a stand on issues and policies and make my views heard, but I’ve never been political in more than 40 years of business. I’m not planning to change that now.
What’s your key survival tip for British entrepreneurs?Richard Branson: Look for businesses where there are opportunities to grow beyond your home market. We live in an increasingly global world. Our businesses must make their mark internationally.
Are you following your own advice?
Richard Branson: Virgin is now a truly global business. We set up our businesses where the market is: we have stakes in five airlines, gyms in five countries, mobile phone businesses in seven and finance businesses in four. Active, our health club business, has expanded from the UK to South Africa and is growing chains in Italy, Spain and Portugal. We also have two new clubs in Australia.
Read what Richard Branson has to say about doing business in the UK vs the US and what we need to do to Save Britain’s Future tomorrow.
Richard Branson is just one of the UK’s highest profile entrepreneurs speaking out on how to save Britain’s future in the September issue of Real Business magazine.
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