Richard Branson told mortgage brokers in the Harbour City that his favourite local restaurant is Bondi Icebergs, he shares the same birthday as his good friend the late Nelson Mandela and given a choice, he would live in Sydney over Melbourne.
“I think Melbourne is a bit too much like Britain, so I think I’d go with Sydney,” he told those gathered for the launch of the new Virgin Money home loan last week.
Mr Branson described Australia as a “fun country”, joking that the reason he is keen to speed-up the Virgin space program is so he can move here sooner.
“You all know you’ve got a unique country. It’s a great place to live,” he said.
The 65-year old Virgin founder owns Makepeace Island in Queensland’s Noosa River. He jointly owns the luxury property with his Virgin co-founding partner Brett Godfrey, who purchased it in 2003.
When asked about leadership, Mr Branson said he had to develop as a leader early on in life, otherwise Virgin would have gone nowhere.
“I had to learn the art of delegation early on,” he said. “I’m dyslexic and know my limitations.
“What I have been able to do is find fantastic people to spearhead the various Virgin companies. I give them a lot of freedom to make mistakes as well as good things. I give praise and don’t criticise.”
While he may be one of the most successful businessmen in the world, Mr Branson revealed that he has had his fair share of mentors over the years.
“My mum was my first mentor. If I ever said something unpleasant about somebody, she would tell me to go and stand in front of the mirror for ten minutes… that was an unpleasant experience,” he said.
“Over the years, I have been very fortunate to meet many extraordinary people. Nelson Mandela was someone I got to know very well when he was alive. He became a good friend and we managed to do some extraordinary things with him.”
The pair, along with former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, launched international NGO The Elders in 2007, an organisation of elder statesmen, peace activists and human rights advocates.
“He [Mandela] used to ring me up every 18 July to wish me a happy birthday,” Mr Branson recalled.
“It also happened to be his birthday. He never forgot. I was very lucky.”
Mr Branson’s first foray into Australia was with Virgin Australia. He is now making a push into financial services with Virgin Money.
While Virgin Money Australia is owned by Bank of Queensland, in the UK it is a listed challenger bank with significant scale. The UK lender reported gross mortgage lending up 30 per cent to £2.1 billion in the first quarter of this year.
“One of our products is mortgages and about 85 per cent of our mortgage sales are through brokers,” Mr Branson said.
“We have found it has worked extremely well there. We are one of the most successful mortgage companies in the UK.”
Mr Branson said duplicating this success in Australia “makes a lot of sense”.
“Buying your house is one of the most important decisions in people’s lives and we take our responsibility to our customers very seriously,” he said.
“Financial services are complex and Virgin Money is all about breaking down the complexity to help people achieve their targets and ensure they feel valued as one of our customers.
“We want to do all we can to give people a chance to get on the property ladder and to protect their assets in order to feel safe and secure.”