Richard Branson and Elon Musk, two of today’s most successful CEOs, betray the notion that there is only one path to success. Both men excel at challenging standard business models, bringing cutting-edge products to their consumers while pushing the boundaries of science and innovation.
Richard Branson – founder of over 500 companies and CEO of the massive Virgin Group – enjoys a good tussle with the “establishment” and never backs down from a fight, as his numerous entrepreneurial successes attest to. His do-or-die approach has allowed him to charge ahead and both improve upon and innovate current industry practices. Meanwhile, Elon Musk – CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors – has worked to reinvent the ways we power our automobiles and our homes, all while trying to colonize Mars. Both have their head in the clouds in the best way possible.
However, while both men are clearly captains of their respective industries, in recent years their interests have increasingly overlapped. With mutual interests in commercial spaceflight as well as satellite internet, they’re facing off against one another on the surface of the Earth as well as in the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Their remarkable passion is fed by equally compelling business philosophies, which in turn serve to inspire the work of their (many) employees.
“Fun is one of the most important — and underrated — ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else,” Branson asserted in his book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership.
Branson’s approach might seem simplistic, but the simplest answers are often the most difficult to argue against. He is the prime example of a man who never waits until the “right moment” to make a move, and has long been described as being a democratic leader who understands that businesses require the strength of a unified team effort.
Oftentimes Branson likes to step away from his company to see how it operates as an individual entity. He’s been known to make calls to company customer-service lines himself, ensuring all aspects of the business remain in touch with the consumer base. He also makes a concerted effort to delegate responsibility into the hands of the most capable individual for the job, hiring even those who embody his weaknesses and challenge his personal visions.
In a June interview, Musk commented on Branson’s work with Virgin Galactic saying, “I like Richard and I think he’s doing some cool things. But technology is not really his whack you know.” Musk, less of a firm believer in the Church of Fun, dedicates himself to hours of work each day and takes little time for personal pleasure. And while he understands that innovations arise as a result of a collected effort, he doesn’t shy away from driving employees towards his own personal goals.
Branson and Musk’s personal triumphs prove that, to find the way to innovation, you’ve got to leave your comfort zone. And for these two, even the Earth’s atmosphere has gotten a little too cozy. But who will make it into orbit first?
In 2012, Musk’s SpaceX was the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. While finding new solutions for rockets and spacecraft, he largely focuses on the improving the sustainability of space travel. Musk has worked to develop “sustainable” rockets, which, when functioning as intended, will be able to land on the Earth’s surface – as opposed to the ocean – thereby reducing their overall cost. Making all kinds of waves in the energy storage sector, Musk’s additional (and somewhat mysterious) work with lithium-ion batteries aims to reign in stratospheric utility and gas prices for large businesses and homeowners alike. If Musk has his way, we may all soon be powered by his innovations, both on Earth and in space.
Branson, on the other hand, is more concerned with the “leisure” side of space and energy innovation. With Virgin Galactic, Branson has sought to establish the into space tourism market, opening the skies to anyone who can afford the ticket. He also wishes to do away with traditional launch methods with his “WhiteKnightTwo” spacecraft, which will fly ten miles up into the atmosphere before SpaceShipTwo detaches and continues into space.
Space exploration has traditionally been seen as the property of governments and works of science fiction, but Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Musk’s SpaceX seek to bring space exploration to the private sector. Neither are particularly qualified to do so, but the outlandish nature and sheer difficulty of the task proves their commitment to pushing every conceivable boundary without regard for possible failure.