Holly Branson is Chief Purpose and Vision Officer of Virgin and she joined the Multiverse Community for a special Multiverse Presents event on finding meaning and changing the world.
Multiverse Presents is an unrivalled opportunity for our thousands of apprentices to hear from leaders from business, government, and civil society, proving that you don’t have to go to university to access world-class, mind-broadening opportunities. Recent guests have included Alastair Campbell, June Sarpong, Jeremy Hunt and Laura Kuenssberg.
On growing up, Holly said: “My dad made life never boring - it was always really good fun. But as a child, life was just normal for me. I didn’t realise life was that dissimilar. I was just a kid with a dad that worked from home - which was unusual at the time.”
Inspired by a neighbour, Holly set out for a career in medicine: “I wanted to be a doctor from the age of 3, which meant I always knew which subjects I needed to be studying.”
“I loved training as a doctor, but I realised I didn’t want to be a surgeon - which was my next job rotation.”
Reward comes from taking a risk
She decided to take a year out of studying, and went on an internship at Virgin. “I took a year out to do an internship at Virgin,” she said, “going around all the different companies and groups. After a year, I didn’t feel ready to reapply for medicine. One year became three years and I was still loving what I was doing so much, and I felt that I’d found a new passion.”
As Holly put it, “your priorities and interests might change. Sometimes the easier thing is to stick with what you know, and what you’re doing already but the real reward comes from taking a risk and doing something new.”
The internship inspired her to focus on her passion: people, purpose, the environment and developing Virgin’s purpose: Changing Business for Good.
After more than a decade at Virgin, Holly became a part of the senior leadership team: “Last October, our CEO asked me to become part of the senior team as Chief Purpose and Vision Officer. It was a big statement, because it meant putting purpose right up there in the senior statement - internally and externally.”
Holly’s role is focused on the vision and purpose of Virgin, among those things looking at how to create opportunities for everyone. “DEI is my passion,” she explained. “We’re really inclusive, but we have further to go on diversity and I relish that opportunity.”
Apprenticeships at Virgin to close the diversity gap
The company is exploring a range of solutions. “We’re looking at things like: Do we need to hire for grades? How can we see who you are, rather than which university you went to.” Particularly since academic success is not a predictor of workplace success.
“I was chatting to some Multiverse apprentices earlier. It was great to see people of all ages - and I chatted to some apprentices who have children and are using an apprenticeship to re-enter the workforce.”
Virgin will take on its first Multiverse apprentices next year, showing their commitment to broadening opportunities to a diverse range of future leaders. Big Change, the charity founded by Holly to enable young people to thrive, will also take on apprenticeships.
Virgin Management recently signed up to support the Better Business Act (BBA) and are actively encouraging other purpose-driven businesses to join them.
Along with the coalition of companies, Virgin are taking a straightforward ask to the Government: change Section 172 of the Companies Act to ensure that businesses in the UK have a legal obligation to consider the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
“It’s a really small change in the law that could make a really big change to society and the planet. It’s something a lot of businesses are doing anyway, loads of businesses are talking about purpose.”
Holly’s personal ambition - and her career - is to make change for good. She emphasised the importance of evaluating your own ambitions, and finding meaningful work to engage with it.
“It’s a really good idea to work out what your personal values are. You’ve got to take stock and work out who you are as a person and what you want to get out of life. Your personal value shouldn’t completely rule out where you work, it’s about finding where your values match and try to bring that into your work life.”