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Personality, passion, purpose

…better than a degree
Thursday, March 9, 2017

Q: I’m starting a business, and I believe in the quality and creativity of my products. I also believe in trusting the people I hire, and empowering them to make decisions. But without a formal education, how can I convince them to trust me?

– Annette


We live in an age in which too much emphasis is placed on colleges and universities. This is unfortunate. The harsh truth is that more and more students are racking up debt every year to get a certificate that doesn’t guarantee a career.

I’m proof that entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need higher-education degrees. I didn’t even finish school, let alone go to a university. Suffering from dyslexia, I couldn’t keep up in class, and I didn’t fit in. So my parents agreed to let me leave school on one condition: that I would do everything I could to turn my ideas into reality. In the end, focusing on what I was passionate about (rather than forcing things that weren’t right for me) opened my eyes and my world.

And I’m not alone.

Iconic change-makers like Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell didn’t earn business degrees. And you don’t need one, either, Annette. What do you need instead?

Personality, passion and purpose.

The first thing I look for when hiring CEOs at our Virgin businesses is personality. Most people get hung up on qualifications, but I only look at those after everything else. If somebody has five degrees and nothing but the best grades, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she or he is the right person for the job. Great grades count for nothing if they aren’t partnered with broad experience and a winning character.

Knowledge and skills can be learned, but you can’t train a personality. Your character and persona will guide your business’ success and also keep your company culture vibrant. So let it shine!

Passion is what ultimately separates the successful from the unsuccessful. In the business world, nobody will see your degrees (or lack thereof), but they will notice your passion.

When starting out, people won’t immediately expect you to be a commanding leader. But convey a sense of passion for what you’re doing, and they’ll be hooked. Unlike a university degree, passion is contagious. It rubs off on everyone and pulls enthusiastic people into your orbit. Let your passion speak for itself and let it influence your actions.

We all have the ability to start something simple and grow it into something great if there is a clear purpose behind our actions. It’s always been my objective to create businesses with a defined purpose beyond just making money.

At the age of 15, I started Student magazine to campaign against the Vietnam War and mobilise the opinions of a young generation that was concerned about the state of the world. I learned then that purpose can be an incredibly uniting and inspiring force, and it attracted many young people to work with us.

People with personality, passion and purpose—who think a little differently and creatively, and see problems as opportunities—make the best entrepreneurs and business leaders. In fact, not having been influenced to think a certain way by an archaic education system gives you a great advantage.

Don’t let outdated beliefs stop you from achieving your dreams. The entrepreneurs who build great companies are often those who are willing to be scared; but not scared off.

If you dream big and take risks, impossible becomes just a word. I should know: The story of Virgin is a story of big dreams, and the odds have been stacked against us all along the way! But by not limiting ourselves, our team has been able to make the impossible possible.

Believe in yourself, Annette. I did, and I’ve never looked back. Formal education works for some people, but not for all. My only regret is that I didn’t leave school at 13. If I had, then I’d be two years ahead of where I am today!




(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at You can follow him on Twitter at To learn more about the Virgin Group: (Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.) The Three P’s


• Personality and strong character will guide your business’ success and also keep your company culture vibrant.

• Passion about your product or service will draw enthusiastic people to you, and it can be contagious.

• Purpose, and having goals beyond profit, can unite and inspire your team.


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