Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson's reply to Aylsham schoolgirl's email

PUBLISHED: 14:40 22 October 2013 | UPDATED: 14:40 22 October 2013

Aylsham High School student Olivia Hill was amazed to get a reply from Sir Richard Branson when compiling her report.

Aylsham High School student Olivia Hill was amazed to get a reply from Sir Richard Branson when compiling her report.

Archant Norfolk 2013

When Aylsham schoolgirl Olivia Hill wanted to find out what made Sir Richard Branson tick as a businessman, she sent him an email and asked.

And Virgin Group founder Sir Richard also went for the direct approach with an email reply to 12-year-old Olivia detailing his entrepreneurial talents and giving her encouragement. An amazed Olivia spotted billionaire Sir Richard’s email in her inbox one morning.

“I was a bit surprised. I went downstairs to tell my mum pretty quickly,” said Olivia, a year-eight student at Aylsham High School which has business and enterprise special status.

She now plans to mimic some of Sir Richard’s legendary boldness and invite him to visit her school.

Sir Richard has just made public his reply to Olivia on the business-based social networking site Linkedin, and via Twitter.

Emmalucy Auber, head of business and enterprise at Aylsham High, said Olivia’s fame had quickly spread far and wide as Sir Richard had 3.5m Twitter followers and more than 90,000 people had viewed his post on Linkedin.

“We’ve had messages congratulating Olivia and wishing her well from all over the world, including CEOs in Australia and Singapore. It’s been amazing,” said Mrs Auber.

Unfazed, Olivia explained that she was starting coursework for a GCSE in business studies and she and her classmates had been told to research someone they found inspiring and discover what enterprise skills they had used when starting out.

“I knew about Richard Branson and I thought I would go to him direct, and ask him,” she said. Her mum had found a contact email address for Sir Richard’s personal assistant, who had promised to forward Olivia’s email to him.

Some three weeks later, Olivia received her reply from Sir Richard whose latest venture is developing a Virgin spaceplane aimed at taking fare-paying passengers on short trips above the Earth’s atmosphere.

In the reply, he talks of his early days on the magazine Student when he successfully asked Mick Jagger and David Hockney to feature, recognising now that someone with more experience might have been too intimidated to approach them.

And he spoke of playing big brands off against each other, from the school phone box, by telling them their rivals were already advertising in the Student.

Olivia said: “I think that’s a bit sneaky, but he got what he wanted. He’s definitely inspired me to work my hardest in my enterprise studies. We’re going to reply to him and ask him to visit Aylsham High School.”

Mrs Auber thanked Sir Richard for his generosity.

She added: “It’s fantastic that someone of his stature should take the time to reply to one of my students and be honest and open with her, sharing his business experiences.”


Dear Olivia,

Many thanks for getting in touch. I’m honoured you have chosen yours truly as the subject of your business studies project. As somebody who did not particularly enjoy school, I hope you have some fun finding out about Virgin’s adventures!

As you pointed out, my life in business started with Student Magazine when I was a few years older than you are now. We set up Student to give a voice to people like me who wanted to protest against the Vietnam War and the establishment. I didn’t have a career in business in mind, we just wanted to make a positive difference to people’s lives. I soon learned one of the best ways to do that is to become an entrepreneur.

The key enterprising skills I used when first starting out are the very same ones I use today: the art of delegation, risk-
taking, surrounding yourself with a great team and working on projects you really believe in. As you mentioned in your letter, I suffer from dyslexia but was able to turn this to my advantage. I delegated the areas I struggled with to people who also believed in the project. This freed up my time to focus on what I was good at – the
strategy of the magazine, making contacts and developing marketing.

We had very little money so had to take risks to get our magazine on the map. I approached to be in Student people like Mick Jagger and David Hockney, whom somebody with more experience may have been too intimidated to contact. For some reason, they said yes! I secured advertising by calling up big brands from the school phone box, telling them their rivals were already advertising with us and playing them off against each other.

It was all great fun, and we learned so much about business by taking chances, getting things wrong and getting up to give it another go. Back then, people who were interested in starting their own businesses were not encouraged in school. Nowadays, while I still think much more could be done to encourage entrepreneurship in education, there are lots of tools and mentors to help you get started in business. If your GCSE studies spark your interest too, then that’s
brilliant. If you don’t get top grades, remember there’s a lot more to life than some letters on a piece of paper.

Have you thought about your own first business idea yet? When you do, be sure to let me know.

All the best, Richard.

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