Virgin Group mogul Sir Richard Branson brought his rebellious business ideas to the Surrey Regional Economic Summit at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel on Thursday.
As the keynote speaker, Branson packed the Guildford Ballroom to discuss his many business ventures - eight of his companies are worth more than $1 billion each - and how he built up his media empire over the last 42 years.
"It can be possible with really quite small sums of money to create businesses that one day can employ 60,000 people and make a big difference," said the 62-year-old entrepreneur, who has an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion as of 2011.
"My mother found a necklace in the street and handed it into the police station. Three months later, nobody collected it and she managed to sell the necklace for $600. She was kind enough to give me the money and that's what kick-started my business."
CKNW host Bill Good facilitated the discussion and asked Branson for his advice to young businesspeople on how to survive in business. Good noted that 33 per cent of Surrey's population is under the age of 20.
"If they have a good idea, just get on and try it," said Branson. "If they fall flat on their face, pick themselves up and try it again and keep trying until they succeed."
Virgin started as a mail-order record retailer in 1970 and has since gone on to establish companies in the airline, railway, cellphone and leisure industries, among others. While an understanding of business is important, Branson said a post-secondary education in the field isn't a requirement.
"I'm not sure that getting a business degree is necessary to run a business," he said. "I think almost anybody could become an entrepreneur if they have a dream to make a difference in other peoples' lives."
He added, "There's no point in going into a business unless you're going to be the best at what you're doing."
When asked about doing business in Canada, Branson said Virgin would like to expand more of its companies throughout the nation and noted that Canada's economy is in reasonable shape, given the financial downturn of the last few years.
"It's one of the few countries in the world that has survived the recession extremely well," he said. "Canada's got a spectacular future."
The summit also featured panels on developing a more robust global economy and the impact of the U.S. presidential election on domestic and international markets. Speakers included conservative political pundit Bill Bennett, Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift, former White House economics advisor Christina Romer and the Wall Street Journal's senior economist Stephen Moore.