In 1962, future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Alex Haley sat down with jazz musician Miles Davis for what would become an institution of American journalism—the Playboy Interview. To celebrate the Interview’s 50th anniversary, Playboy has culled 50 of its most (in)famous Interviews and will publish them over the course of 50 weekdays (from September 4, 2012 to November 12, 2012) via Amazon’s Kindle Direct platform. Here, a glimpse at our conversation with business magnate Richard Branson from the January 2009 issue.
“I remember when I was on my houseboat and somebody said to me, ‘Have you bought The Independent yet?’ and I said, “No, I haven’t. I didn’t actually know it was for sale.” He said, ‘No, I meant have you bought a copy of The Independent.’ But I have a pretty good, balanced life. I play hard and work hard.”
“I never took a course in management. I’ve been fortunate to learn by experience, by making mistakes, by trying. I’ve learned every day by doing things different and new. Having so many different businesses has kept it fascinating. Every one of them helps me with the previous one, from the record business to the airline business and banking—learning, learning, learning, learning.”
Branson: I enjoy life too much to do anything too foolhardy. I turned down a chance to go after the land speed record because I felt it was too much like tossing a coin—heads you die, tails you live—and that’s unacceptable. I love life and love living it to the fullest. I want the richest life possible. It’s all part of it: building companies, being pulled out of the water four times by helicopters.
Playboy: Are near-fatal crashes part of the fun?
Branson: The moments when things go horribly wrong are some of the worst moments of my life. I remember a Pacific crossing about a few hours into the trip. We dropped an empty fuel tank, and with it went two thirds of our full fuel tanks. We calculated that we had little chance of crossing the Pacific unless we could get up to speeds of 180 miles an hour. Somebody was very kind to us. The balloon sped along; we were very fortunate to cross. But those can be lonely moments, ones when you ask what on earth has made you decide to be up there. Having said that, I’ll say it’s also incredible. I generally forget the awful moments and remember the good ones. I may swear never to do it again, but a week or two later I’m zesting for more. It’s a bad streak in me.
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