My Dinner with Sir Richard Branson: Breaking the rules to save the world

cuttingmytie

 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine sent me an email that essentially said, “I want you to go to Necker Island and hang out with people who are changing the world and I am paying for it.”

In sharing this news with my wife, she was enormously impressed with my friend’s generosity and inquired, “You do know that Richard Branson owns that island and lives on it?”

I would be lying if I said that I did.

I have known of Richard Branson for as long as I can remember.  A successful business man.  A business man who wasn’t always successful.  A generous philanthropist.  A noted adventurer and thrill seeker. 

A whirling dervish of a man with a twinkle in his eye and an explosive smile.

Necker Island was everything and more that I imagined and had read about.  The people who attended were as successful and brilliant and passionate as I envisioned them to be. 

From exponential technology that is not just changing lives but is saving lives to artists who are creating new mediums of expression using virtual reality to scientists harnessing video games to treat diseases of the mind I was treated to a smorgasbord of remarkable people doing remarkable things to make a remarkable world.

My time with all of them was, in a word, remarkable.

But, my dinner with Richard Branson is the reminder I desperately needed in a jaded world that good and decent men still occupy this planet.

It would be a misstatement of fact to suggest I did not prepare for dinner with Richard Branson. 

I am a planner.  Not in a bureaucratic big government kind of way.

No, I am a planner in an I am about to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I don’t want to miss it kind of way.

The attire theme of the evening was white.  I have to be honest.  White is not my best color.  Upon donning my shirt and slacks I resembled something that looked like a large, misshaped cloud.  But rather than gracefully floating I really ended up looking and walking like a ruffled and middle-aged pillow.

It is important for me to pause here, briefly, to point out that in my preparations for my trip to Necker Island and having dinner with Branson I learned of his near obsession with not wanting to wear a tie.

Branson, in fact, so hates them that when he encounters those wearing them he is often known to grab a scissors and cut them off the offending individual.

So, I did what any self-respecting huckster would do.

I wore a tie to dinner with Richard Branson.

But this story isn’t about the tie.

This story is about dinner with Richard Branson and what I learned about him and myself that evening.

I deliberately sat in the middle of the long table as others jockeyed for the corners of the end of each side of the table anticipating that Branson would be seated at whatever would be considered the head of the table.

I learned a long time ago that smart people who enjoy conversations with others don’t sit at the head of the table.

Those who do are the people who want others to listen to them.

Those who sit in the middle of the table usually want to listen to others.

Richard Branson sits in the middle of the table.

I also didn’t care to spend much time asking Branson about his philosophy of life – why he jumped into big dangerous balloons to fly across vast oceans – or if he had one piece of advice about how to save the world what would it be.

Nope.

I asked Branson what he thought about Donald Trump and America.

Those expecting me to share devastating commentary that Branson may have said about the election of Donald Trump as America’s next President will be sorely disappointed that this too is not what this story is about.

What it is about his Branson’s belief that America is still the most powerful force for good in the world.

Don’t misinterpret that last sentence.

Branson is a Brit and as a Brit he still believes his blessed United Kingdom is still the greatest place on Earth.

After all, the United States didn’t endow him with the title “Sir Richard Branson” – that was the Queen of England.

But, Branson is, if nothing else, a learned man who is still astonishingly young despite his amazing and accomplished life.

He has seen an America that is still astonishingly young despite its amazing and accomplished life.

He sees America through the eyes of someone who has been virtually everywhere on Earth that there is a way to reach.

Inside of him and from the words that come out of him America is not a tired, beaten down nation looking at its best days in the rear-view mirror.

On the contrary, despite his concerns about political leadership in America Branson deliberately surrounded himself throughout the week by some of the greatest minds in America.

Not politicians and the privileged elite.

But by people who, like him, decided that breaking the rules of expectations was far more likely to create a better world than following the rules that someone else created to stop others from breaking the rules.

Every person I met on that island was breaking the rules.  Not out of spite or disrespect.  But, out of a sense of urgency that there’s not enough time in the short life we all have on this planet to allow life changing and life saving ideas and solutions to wait for proper etiquette.

Richard Branson has never waited for proper etiquette.

Because of that he is not everyone’s cup of tea.

With dinner ended Branson did, as I hoped, drag me up on his dining room table and proceed to grab my tie and cut it off me.

He did it with glee and ceremony and the gusto of a man whose appetite for life is abundantly apparent.

Before I left the island, I enjoyed the opportunity of having Branson gleefully destroying me in a tennis tournament.

I gleefully enjoyed photobombing him with bunny ears.

I returned home from my trip to Necker Island and considered my bucket list.

I have a bulging life bucket list. 

It doesn’t help that every time I remove something from it I find myself compelled to add to it.

There’s no hole in that bucket. 

It’s just that a lot of things I want to do I have done and I hate to have anything half empty in my life.

Has the opportunity to go to Necker Island, hang with really smart world-changing people and meet Richard Branson been on my life bucket list?

Nope.

Yet, sometimes things jump into the bucket without me knowing it and I find myself pleasantly surprised that what I wasn’t seeking came and found me instead.

My dinner with Sir Richard Branson was in that bucket list and came and found me.

Now I need to add something else to the bucket.

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