As a CEO and entrepreneur, I look to great leaders for inspiration and guidance as I mitigate challenges or validate my own business strategies. Sir Richard Branson has long since been one of those leaders known for his incredible business prowess, his contributions to entrepreneurs across the globe, and his commitment to conversation and charity. I have read his books – almost all of them. I peruse the internet for articles penned by him or about him. All of this has been at a distance, until recently.
On Monday, December 10, I set sail from Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands for the inaugural Necker Cup on Necker Island. Aside from the promise of watching the world’s top tennis players play in a Pro Am, I anticipated catching a glimpse of Sir Richard Branson.
As the boat neared the dock at Necker Island, the anticipation was building. Within 20 yards, I could see Branson on a speed boat with a few others with photographers in tow. He beamed a smile in our direction and waved us in. His smile was electric.
Stepping onto the dock, I looked up only to see a jungle – or at least what resembled a jungle – lush with color. We walked down the sandy path complete with tortoises, flamingos, and lemurs. With the blink of an eye, Branson appeared, smiled, shook my hand, and welcomed me to the island. It was completely disarming, and it set the tone for what remains to be one of the most memorable experiences in my professional and personal life.
I scanned the crowd of no more than 60 people that included tennis stars like world singles #1 Novak Djokovic, world #1 doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan, Tommy Haas, and John McEnroe, mixed among other notable business leaders spanning technology, finance, commercial real estate, etc. With no pretense, there was undeniable camaraderie all around.
It became even clearer to me that I was witnessing authenticity in its purest form. This environment, created and nurtured by Branson, is a place – rather a paradise – designed to strip away the labels. To see how one person’s sentiment can infect an entire group is a lesson to all of us.
On our ride back to Virgin Gorda that evening, I couldn’t image a better experience and opportunity, and yet, it was only Day 1.