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Richard Branson, a renowned risk taker, reveals the worst career advice he ever received

Branson, who has a net worth of $2.6 billion, per Forbes, built his career and fortune from the Virgin Group.
Cover Image Source:  Sir Richard Branson | Getty Images | Roberto Finizio
Cover Image Source: Sir Richard Branson | Getty Images | Roberto Finizio

Career advice can make a huge difference in your life. However, not all of it is gold. Bilionaire Richard Branson feels that there's something to learn from even the worst advice like having the courage to do the exact opposite. In a recent episode of "Work Life with Adam Grant" podcast, the entrepreneur said that the worst advice he ever got was "do what you know". He then goes on to say how the most successful businesses that he has started were in the industries where he was not an expert.

“Most of my successful businesses were in industries where I had no industry experience at all,” he said.

Grant, a Wharton organizational psychologist, tells Branson that people who tend to stay in a single field sometimes develop "cognitive entrenchment," instead "when you’re fresh to an industry, from the outside, you get that ability to see what’s taken for granted and challenge it," Grant tells Branson in the episode.

Branson, who has a net worth of $2.6 billion, per Forbes, built his fortune from the Virgin Group, which is a venture capital and holding company. The company started over 50 years ago as a Record company, Virgin Records, and later entered sectors ranging from airlines and hotels to media and spaceflight.

 Sir Richard Branson | Virgin Hotels New York | John Lamparski/Getty Images
Sir Richard Branson | Virgin Hotels New York | John Lamparski/Getty Images

According to Branson, he never felt limited by conventional wisdom in general or by labels. He finds it insulting to be introduced as a billionaire as he sees himself only as a businessperson or entrepreneur. Branson says this mentality has helped him focus on the quality of ideas rather than their earning potential. He defines himself primarily as "somebody who loves to create things that I can be proud of".

"If I was a pure businessman, then I would never have decided to go into space," Branson said. He reads books that shape his worldview and helps him prosper. According to him, books like "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart (aka George Cockcroft), "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek, and "I Am a Girl From Africa" by Elizabeth Nyamayaro are some of the books that businessmen should read to gain perspective. 


Branson, who had his eyes set on the entrepreneurship world, was born to a barrister and former ballet dancer in Blackheath, southeast London, where he went to the Stowe School. He was an average kid in school. He also suffered from dyslexia and ADHD and on his last day at school, his headmaster told him that he would either end up in prison or become a successful rich man.

Branson left school at 16 and started his first business, a student magazine, which eventually made him some money. Around this time, he also started a record mail-order business which he advertised in his magazine, and saw his sales soar. Branson later used this money and started Virgin Records in 1972, signing big names like Rolling Stones and UB40.

 Sir Richard Branson | Josh Brasted/Getty Images
Sir Richard Branson | Josh Brasted/Getty Images

Today, there are more than 40 Virgin companies that operate in around 35 countries. While some like Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, and Virgin Clothing have failed, most of them have made enough money. Now, Branson is competing with other billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in the space race after he founded Virgin Orbit in 2017 and Virgin Galactic in 2004. "I see myself as somebody who loves to create things...I’ve never thought of going into these businesses with the thought of making lots of money," he once said.