F is for Forgiveness

Forgiveness has become a cultural policy within Virgin. We give second chances, and have reaped great rewards as a result. It’s amazing how much people lift their game when you put trust and hope in them.

Richard Branson's A to Z of Business: F is for Forgiveness

My life and career could have been very different if I hadn’t chosen to forgive one of my very first business partners. After finding a note outlining his plans to oust me as Student magazine’s publisher and editor, I felt incredibly betrayed and we decided to part ways.

From Student came the idea for Virgin. But as the operation took off, I decided to let bygones be bygones and called up him and asked him to re-join the team. Forgiving him was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I retained a great friend, became happier at work and in life, and gained the confidence to grow Virgin. Forgiveness brought us both peace and success.

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In early days of Virgin Records, we caught one of our people stealing from us. Instead of letting him go, we gave him a second chance. And thankfully so, as he went on to discover talent like Culture Club, Human League and Phil Collins and sign them to our music label.

Shortly after we won our Dirty Tricks court case against British Airways – a bitter campaign that almost ran Virgin Atlantic into the ground – I rang up the airline’s CEO as asked him to join me for lunch. We buried the hatchet and agreed to work together on charity projects. We remained great friends for the rest of his life.

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No matter the situation, forgiveness is the best answer. We have been reminded of this time and time again by individuals who make my stories seem trivial.

Nelson Mandela’s life is a powerful tale of forgiveness. After being unfairly jailed for 27 years, he forgave the people who imprisoned him. This forgiveness enabled him to become one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. Together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid was abolished, and the spirit of forgiveness shown in the process continues to enable South Africa to move forward.

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The story of every successful person is a story of second chances (not to mention third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances!) Nobody gets everything right first time, and it is how we learn from our mistakes that defines us. No one should be judged by the worst moment in their lives, which is why we encourage our businesses to find ways of training and employing people who have been released from prison.

In England and Wales, nearly 50 per cent of people reoffend within a year of being released from prison and we know that employment is essential to keep people out of trouble. Virgin Trains are just one of our companies pioneering the hiring of ex-offenders, with 25 people now working in different parts of the company. That’s 25 people who’ve been given a second chance in life, with vastly better odds of never committing a crime again.

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If you’ve fallen out with someone, I urge you to call them up and arrange to meet and talk about the situation. You’ll most likely both think that the other person is to blame, but give each other the benefit of the doubt. Life’s too short to hold grudges. Everyone deserves freedom to move forward – and forgiveness is the fastest route to peace and happiness.

What does forgiveness mean to you?

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