Growing up with a serial entrepreneur for a Dad
“Have you seen the front pages of the newspapers today, Holly?”
“Uhmm… no?”, I would reply tentatively, usually cringing and going slightly pink. I could guess what was coming!
“Holly, your Dad has nearly been arrested for hanging off the top of a building, waving a huge flag and clinging on to a rock band!” Or, a personal favourite: “Holly, I think your dad has just invaded New York... There’s a photo on the front page of him driving a huge tank in to Times Square!”
Most fifteen-year-old's have to contend with bad ‘Dad dancing’ at a family wedding and cheesy Dad jokes. For me, and my brother Sam, our cringey teenage-parent moments were a little bit more colourful and a lot more public!
Luckily, the way Dad involved us in the Virgin family and all of its wonderful adventures, was my Dad’s most genius move as a parent. The craziness of this rapidly growing global brand and Dad fully embracing his passion as a serial entrepreneur, became the ‘norm’ for us. People always find it a bit strange when we confess to being totally unfazed by Dad’s business adventures when we were growing up… Teenagers!
I get asked a lot about how I felt watching my Dad go off on his dangerous balloon challenges around the world (and other crazy adventures!) and I’ve always admitted that I did become his slightly mopey shadow in the weeks before those challenges. Ultimately though, I got it. Even at that age, I understood Dad’s desire to push himself, to set or break world records, and live a life full of adventure.
What I rarely get asked though is how, as a teenager, I kept up with the ever-changing face of our family business! This year, Virgin celebrated its 50th birthday, and when you consider the span of five decades, it seems reasonable that we have so many companies in so many sectors. But in reality, it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that rampant entrepreneurialism hit my dad’s psyche - and the Virgin brand - at full force. This coincided perfectly with my teenage years!
Between the ages of 13 and 18 I watched my dad launch: Virgin Radio, Vodka, Cola, Virgin Direct (financial services), Virgin Express (European airline), V2 Records, Virgin.net, Virgin Brides, Virgin Trains, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Active and own the majority share in a Rugby team! The early 2000's, were just as frantically entrepreneurial too. So, while I was worrying if I had learned enough to pass my ‘GCSE’s’ and my ‘A’ levels, my dad had learned the ‘ins and outs’ of at least 12 different industries and sectors across the world. All alongside his day job of heading up Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Megastores.*
Even with all the ridiculous outfits, over-the-top stunts and the odd blushing at school, I now realise, that I gained so much from watching how an entrepreneur adapts, innovates and makes things happen, as I was growing up. Like most teenagers, at the time, it was more a case of: “really, Dad?!”.
As an adult, I’m in awe of how Dad’s brain works. He has this ability to get right to the heart of where a sector is letting down its customers and how Virgin can make it better. He intuitively understands how to bring about competition and add value. He knows how to bring innovation, fun and colour to stale businesses. And, ultimately, how be the consumer champion. Of course I’m hugely biased, but watching his sharp intelligence, empathetic and people-focussed drive, strategic business thinking, sheer joy and sense of fun that he and his teams bring to every business we launch is hugely inspirational.
What I admire most about successful entrepreneurs is their ability to stay positive (even in the face of failure), to think differently and not be afraid to put that innovative thinking to the test, to shake up markets and provide customers with what they’ve been missing - sometimes without even realising it!
The most valuable lesson that I learnt from growing up and working with the ultimate business maverick is that all great entrepreneurs have one ‘absolute’ - they absolutely love what they do!
Thank you to Dad, for sharing your passion, for doing business differently and for your (somewhat unusual) but equally brilliant, entrepreneurial brain! To all of those with similar brains out there, thank you for being you and happy Global Entrepreneurship Week!
*It’s true that a few of those businesses no longer exist, but they all brought much needed competition to stagnant industries and had a positive impact on consumer choice, value and quality!