Sir Richard Branson speaks at biotechnology conference

Sir Richard Branson gave the Keynote address at the Biotechnology International Organization (BIO) conference in San Diego On Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Actually, it was more of a sit down interview with Jim Greenwood, the President of BIO.

Greenwood started the interview by asking true false questions of Branson regarding his previous adventures such as hot air ballooning.

The 55 year old magnate casually dressed in a crisp white shirt with unbuttoned cuffs and collar. To help make Greenwood more comfortable, he cut off his tie! Later in the interview he poured a little bit of water on Greenwood’s suit. (I did ask Green wood later at the volunteer mess, if he knew his tie would be ruined. Yes, he responded; he knew and wore a tie he did not care about.)

biotechnology industry event

Sam Greenwood, CEO of BIO, interviews Sir Richard Branson during the June 24, 2014 keynote address.

Branson began his career as the CEO of Virgin records. He started Virgin Airlines when a flight from Puerto Rico operated by American Airlines was cancelled due to under subscription. He went to the back of the airport and was able to charter a flight that evening to the Virgin Islands, where he was meeting a lady who became his wife. With a blackboard borrowed from the airport, he targeted all the other disappointed passengers with $29 flights to the Virgin Islands. Thus, Virgin Airlines was born.

British Airways was not happy with the new competition and went to extremely lengths to put him out of business. They looked through the trash at his business and home, hoping to find traces of illegal drugs. They hacked into his business computers, finding customers with flight reservations with Virgin. British Airways, then called these customers, impersonating Virgin Airlines, to tell them that their flights had been delayed, but that they were able to get them onto a British Airways flight. Branson sued BA and ultimately won a huge settlement. Virgin Airlines continues to this day.

Sir Richard Branson guesturing

Sir Richard Branson at BIO Keynote address.

His non-profit charity work includes distributing anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) free in Africa. Presently, he finds the most satisfaction from this work.

Branson is dyslexic and left school at age 15. He recommends that parents not worry too much about their dyslexic children, but instead encourage them in endeavors at which they are strong.

Keeping with his unorthodox style, Branson included a couple of slides of him with young bikini clad women kite skiing and an interesting story of Keith Richards and someone’s wife while he was with Virgin Records.  While he was not an especially inspiring speaker, with very little relevant to biotechnology in the interview, he was entertaining.

The last question of the interview was asked by Thomas Edwards, from Make a Wish Foundation, who spent time with Branson in the ready room before the interview. In response to his question, what do you most value in life, Branson responded that health was incredibly important.

DeeAnn Visk, Ph.D., is a freelance science writer, editor, and blogger. Her passions include cell culture, molecular biology, genetics, and microscopy. DeeAnn lives in the San Diego, California area with her husband, two kids, and two spoiled hens. You are welcome to contact her at

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