Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Virgin boss finds comfort

Random House launched Virgin boss Richard Branson’s latest business title Business Stripped Bare at the Kensington Roof Gardens (which he owns) in west London earlier this week. The party was enlivened by the presence of two scantily dressed models who were meant to represent the ‘stripped bare’ theme of the title. Except that everyone immediately started calling them ‘Bradford’ and ‘Bingley’ – arguably not exactly the sort of company Virgin wants to be associated with this week, given that this financial institution is one of the latest to have been bailed out by the UK government (although, typing those words, I do wonder whether names like Bradford & Bingley, or even Abbey National, mean anything outside UK shores).

So what is Branson’s take on the financial meltdown? “Until a few days ago I think we were teetering on the brink of a recession akin to 1929, and a Depression to follow. Hopefully, the action in the US can avoid that. There’s no question that the banks need more liquidity. It’s a hairy situation sparked off by some greedy and foolish bankers and regulators that didn’t regulate. This is what happens if banks are going to lend without thinking about the downside. If there is one guideline that people could draw from my book it’s that you have to protect against the downside. I think protecting against the downside is the most important lesson in business.”

Among those listening to him were Random House Deputy Chairman Ian Hudson who remains confident that books, if not bankers, will weather this particular storm.

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