(C) Copyright - Christopher Kelsall - 2008

Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur, adventurer and founder of the Virgin Group of companies, is delighted to be a part of the London Marathon, so-much-so that he signed one of his business ventures, ‘Virgin Money’, to a £17million, five-year commitment to be the title sponsor of the event.

Virgin Money is commited from 2010 to 2015, which includes the highly anticipated 30th anniversary race. Branson said, “it's an epic and inspirational event and raises a fantastic amount of money for great causes. It's the single biggest fundraising day on the planet and we want to make it even bigger, our aim is to help runners smash the £¼ billion mark in five years.”

Can Sir Richard’s company help the London Marathon and its participants break the £¼ billion mark in five years? Don’t bet against him, the tycoon and adventurer, does not give up on his goals easily. He is a competitive businessman who currently owns more than 200 branded companies worldwide, employing approximately 50,000 people. Branson’s personal net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion US.

A little adventure

Branson holds the transatlantic crossing record. In 1986, in his sloop named ‘Virgin Atlantic Challenger II’, he eclipsed the crossing record by more than two hours. A year later he became the very first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. Using his aptly christened ‘Virgin Atlantic Flyer’ he crossed the Atlantic moving at speeds of 209 km/h. In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific from Japan to the Arctic, a span of 10, 800 km. This broke the record, with a speed of 394 km/h. Richard holds several other adventure records.

In September this year I attempted to interview Branson; however, he was at sea with his family in his 99-foot sloop he named ‘Virgin Money’. Sure, the trappings of financial prowess have their benefits (imagine your own heart-warming tableau – a happy family at sea); however, The Beaufort Wind Force Scale estimated the force of the seas as high as ‘9’, which produced swells of 10 metres (40 feet), destroying the main sail and spinnaker and sending the boat south to Bermuda. No wonder my communications were left adrift for awhile.

Mixing with the best

What do successful people do to accomplish their goals? They surround themselves with other successful people. Sir Richard Branson joined in on the formation of The Elders, a group headed by former South African President Nelson Mandela, Mozambican activist Graça Mache,  Archbishop Desmond TuTu, former US President Jimmy Carter, Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing amongst other notables. The group is founded on agreement that there be no personal financial gain. The Elders are financed by musician Peter Gabriel and Sir Richard Branson.

From The Elder’s site

The Elders is a new gathering of world leaders who will come together to guide and support our ‘global village.’ For their model they looked to traditional village elders, trusted by their people to resolve conflict within their communities.

“Despite all the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We – The Elders – will endevour to support those people and do our best for humanity.”
-Desmond Tutu.

If fundraising a ¼ billion pounds seems like a momentus odyssey, especially since the London Marathon raised £400 million since the race began back in 1981 to 2007, fear not! Branson apparently knows no limits. In 2004 he partnered with yet another successful entrepreneur, co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen and legendary aeronautical engineer and visionary, Burt Ratan to design ‘Virgin Galactic’ for sub-orbital space tourism.  If you would like a little space diversion for your holidays, prepare to spend $200, 000.

About the London Marathon

The first London Marathon in 1981 had 6, 255 finishers whereas 34, 497 crossed the finish line in 2008. The London Marathon is a very popular event for participants’ worldwide: spectators who line up cheering throughout the course and the viewer ship tuning in on the Internet and television help to make London a major athletic showcase on par with any other major world-class sporting spectacle, like Super Bowl or a World Cup soccer match.  Additionally, London is one of the five World Marathon Majors and is shown on television in over 150 countries. Apparently, the 2009 race has received over 110,000 applications from the UK alone -- this, for the chance at a ballot for an opportunity to register.

The course is flat, fast and wends its way throughout many historic areas of London, passing landmarks that identify the city on many postcards and make up the backdrop of tourist’s vacation photos the world over.

Course records are:

Women:

Paula Radcliffe - Great Britain - 2:15:24 WR

Men:

Martin Lel – Kenya – 2:05:15

Branson, not the most academic student, grew up possessing an abundunce of athletic skill and competitive spirit, hence his sailing and hot air balloon adventures. As a business magnate, committed to supporting the most exciting marathon in the world, through his company Virgin Money, he creates a synergistically ideal partnership that should see the fundraising masses and the elite and sub-elite athletes treated to the best marathon experience possible.

When Branson eventually towelled off from sailing out of the perfect storm, he was kind enough to get to my questions.

The Interview

CK: To consider entering into the marketing bailiwick of destination marathon sponsorship one would think is an easy decision to make. Banks and other financial institutions have been involved for years for the obvious benefits.

London 2010 and beyond (5 years) is a win-win situation in that Virgin Money will help perpetuate the efforts of the event, to raise funds for charities, while smartly benefiting from the association of an important milestone for most people (when they run a marathon). Congratulations on the decision to support the London Marathon.

RB: I'm delighted that Virgin will be sponsoring the London Marathon. It's an epic and inspirational event and raises a fantastic amount of money for great causes. It's the single biggest fundraising day on the planet and we want to make it even bigger, our aim is to help runners smash the £¼ billion mark in five years. We're looking forward to putting on a great show for London.

The London Marathon 2010 will be the 30th in its rich history and we want to make sure it is the biggest and best yet. We're working on some ideas that will raise even more money for good causes and we'll be aiming to help the runners to continue to blow all other fundraising events out of the water.

CK: You are known as an adventurous person, especially with the hot air balloons and your varied business ventures. Have you run a marathon (if not) do you plan on running one, one day.

Read the rest of the interview at Athletics Illustrated


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Contact Chris: chriskelsall@flocasts.org

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