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Published on Monday, April 20, 2020

Richard Branson hits back at his critics



Sir Richard Branson has written an open letter to staff, hitting back at recent criticism over his call for state intervention to save companies, including Virgin Atlantic.





He said the airline will need Government support, but insisted: "This would be in the form of a commercial loan - it wouldn't be free money and the airline would pay it back."


He also suggested any loan could be secured against his Caribbean island, Necker, saying: "As with other Virgin assets, our team will raise as much money against the island as possible to save as many jobs as possible around the Group."


The letter says: "Over the last month much has been said about me and our brand. I know how much you all care about your work, your companies, and most of all each other, so I thought it was important for you all to know the actual facts. 


"Over the five decades I have been in business, this is the most challenging time we have ever faced. It is hard to find the words to convey what a devastating impact this pandemic continues to have on so many communities, businesses and people around the world. From a business perspective, the damage to many is unprecedented and the length of the disruption remains worryingly unknown.


"Together with our Virgin company teams, I am working day and night to look after our people and protect as many jobs as possible.


"We are operating in many of the hardest hit sectors, including aviation, leisure, hotels and cruises, and we have more than 70,000 people in 35 countries working in Virgin companies.


"We're doing all we can to keep those businesses afloat and I am so thankful to all of you who have continued to work so hard in these difficult times. We have already committed a quarter of a billion dollars to help our businesses and protect jobs, and will continue to invest all we can.


"I've seen lots of comments about my net worth - but that is calculated on the value of Virgin businesses around the world before this crisis, not sitting as cash in a bank account ready to withdraw. Over the years significant profits have never been taken out of the Virgin Group, instead they have been reinvested in building businesses that create value and opportunities. The challenge right now is that there is no money coming in and lots going out.


"My passion has always been creating businesses that improve people's lives and over the years we have created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Today, the cash we have in the Virgin Group and my personal wealth is being invested across many companies around the world to protect as many jobs as possible, with a big part of that going to Virgin Atlantic. 


"Much has been said about Virgin Atlantic employees taking a wage reduction for eight weeks, spread across six and a half months. This was a virtually unanimous decision made by Virgin Atlantic employees and their unions who collectively chose to do this to save as many jobs as possible - it was not forced upon them by management. I am so proud of the Virgin Atlantic teams who continue to deliver critical medical cargo flights to the UK, and the many Virgin Atlantic people who are currently volunteering with the NHS. Their spirit is so heart-warming and inspiring, and I couldn't be prouder of our amazing people (it deserves saying twice!) I am also deeply moved by the thousands of messages of support from our incredible people at Virgin Atlantic and around the Virgin family. They mean so much to me - thank you all. 


"Together with the team at Virgin Atlantic, we will do everything we can to keep the airline going - but we will need government support to achieve that in the face of the severe uncertainty surrounding travel today and not knowing how long the planes will be grounded for. This would be in the form of a commercial loan - it wouldn't be free money and the airline would pay it back (as easyJet will do for the £600m loan the government recently gave them). The reality of this unprecedented crisis is that many airlines around the world need government support and many have already received it. Without it there won't be any competition left and hundreds of thousands more jobs will be lost, along with critical connectivity and huge economic value. Virgin Atlantic started with one plane 36 years ago. Over those years it has created real competition for British Airways, which must remain fierce for the benefit of our wonderful customers and the public at large. 


"The same is true in Australia, where the brilliant Virgin Australia team is fighting to survive and need support to get through this catastrophic global crisis. We are hopeful that Virgin Australia can emerge stronger than ever, as a more sustainable, financially viable airline. If Virgin Australia disappears, Qantas would effectively have a monopoly of the Australian skies. We all know what that would lead to."


The letter also addresses criticism of Virgin Care, which provides NHS services; its Virgin Money Giving fundraising platform and the fact that Branson and his wife live overseas.


He said: "There have been comments about my home. Joan and I did not leave Britain for tax reasons but for our love of the beautiful British Virgin Islands and in particular Necker Island, which I bought when I was 29 years old, as an uninhabited island on the edges of the BVI. Over time, we built our family home here. The rest of the island is run as a business, which employs 175 people. As with other Virgin assets, our team will raise as much money against the island as possible to save as many jobs as possible around the Group."


He ends the letter: "It really breaks my heart to see the impact this pandemic is having across people's lives and businesses around the world. When this crisis passes, as it eventually will, the world will be very different to the one we are used to. I know we will come out stronger and kinder to each other as a result. Thanks so much once again to all of you, you continue to inspire me every day.


"Sending you and your family much love in these difficult times."


 

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