Recently I learned one of life’s most valuable lessons from a man with more than a billion reasons to ask me to leave him alone.
“Good morning, my name is Richard Branson.”
Dressed in black and green striped surf shorts, crumpled yellow T-shirt and flip-flops, he is extending his hand to introduce himself to my wife who is waiting a few feet behind me.
Standing on a small wooden boat dock on a remote island 2,000 miles from home, my path in life somehow crossed with billionaire and business entrepreneur Richard Branson. Yes, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records, Virgin … well, about all things Virgin.
I’ve stepped off a small boat for provisions when he, too, is there to gather a few items. Alone and accompanied by only his trademark sunglasses and long flowing blond hair, Branson pauses to share a few moments with me. There are, from what I’m told, less than 100 people living on this patch of sand and rock where we are visiting.
He is polite as we share a few moments — me mentioning to him how he was a positive influence in our son’s interest in media and business throughout college.
It is then he does the remarkable. Pausing, he looks over my left shoulder and sees my wife hanging back as he and I visit. Stepping forward, he reaches out to her, extending his hand, and bowing ever so slightly to introduce himself to her. Smiling warmly, he then invites her into our conversation — making my wife feel welcome into a small moment on an even smaller patch of real estate.
I’ll be honest; I will never forget the lesson I learned at that very moment.
From a young age we are all taught to respect others, to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. To do otherwise is to project a self-image of superiority, making others feeling less worthy of your time and attention.
But, as many of us know, sometimes those rules tend to be forgotten when fame and fortune come some people’s way in life.
Richard Branson, by extending his hand to my wife and inviting her into our brief conversation, was showing to me that he, one of the world’s most wealthiest and powerful men in media, was a gentleman first. To him, the fact the three of us were standing alone on a tiny boat dock did not change the universal rules of respect. I wanted nothing from him, and he surely did not need anything from me. There were no witnesses, no expectation for him to be on his best behavior. But there, with no reason to put on false airs, he made sure to make a perfect stranger — and one he would most likely never see again — feel welcome.
Since this odd crossing of our pathways, people have asked me what it was like to meet such an icon of modern history — a man so highly regarded the Queen of England knighted him.
In my mind I think of his ventures to space, balloon races around the world. I think of his model-breaking business, his commitment to leave the world a better place than he found it.
And then I think of the handshake he didn’t have to make. That is the story I will tell — and forever carry in my heart as a lesson to never forget.