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on December 9, 2011
This is a must-read for anyone interested in business, entrepreneurship, social issues, the future of capitalism, and the current challenges that face the world today. Despite its playful title, this is a substantive book that advises without preaching, that is idealistic by providing real-world examples, that tells stories about famous people by focusing on their deeds not their fame, that is a highly entertaining read at the same time as dealing with challenging issues.

Branson builds a strong case for the business world's potential to address social, economic, political and environmental issues by creating new business models and new ways of doing business. He does this not by some theoretical or pie-in-the sky fluff, but rather by stories of organizations and businesses that have done it. So his narrative is planted firmly in the real world and that is what is so inspiring and concrete - a departure from the usual nonsense that fills so many business, self-help and do-good tomes that fill the shelves these days.

Despite the underlying gravitas, the book is an easy read. The big picture is built by narrating stories about new organizations, leadership groups and businesses that are combining business and social causes. The cases are mostly related to what has been done in the Virgin Group, but also include stories about people that Branson knows personally, which includes a network of extraordinary breadth. He seems to be able to call virtually any world leader, politician, musician, movie producer or activist to form a team to deal with issues ranging from healthcare to poverty to environmental issues.

Reading a book in an interaction between writer and reader. In reviewing a book, one must consider not merely the book in isolation, but the reader and his/her interests and intentions in reading the book. So let me describe to whom I think this book would be of interest and why:

- Business leaders, to learn from Richard Branson's personal examples how they can change their businesses to achieve both financial and social returns. As suggested above, Branson doesn't present examples that are merely mushy, feel-good CSR projects. There are hard-core cases that Fortune 500 CEOs will find compelling.

- Entrepreneurs, whose minds will explode with ideas about how to create businesses that can succeed in very creative ways that address new customers and new markets with novel business models.

- Students, who are looking to build a meaningful career, a life of purpose, while being practical and focused on making money. The two are not contradictory and you don't have to settle for money OR meaning.

- Social and environmental activists, who will learn that business is not the enemy but an ally for your causes. This will eliminate the one-dimensional thinking about the rich, the 1%, the corporation.

- Political/economic thinkers, who will read about Branson's ability and experience in bringing together world leaders and creating virtual think-tanks and problem-solving organizations that include the likes of Nelson Mandela and Jeff Skoll, whose movies have won Oscars.

- Celebrity-watches and People Magazine readers, who will learn about the serious side of some of the rich and famous in Branson's orbit. In a world where it's now possible to be "famous for being famous", it will be illuminating to learn about the substance behind some of more serious actors and musicians who grace our screens and iPods.

If you enjoyed books like Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat", you would probably enjoy "Screw Business as Usual". This might seem like an unlikely connection, but just as Tom Friedman traveled the world to illustrate how globalization was changing the way people do business, Branson does the same for "social entrepreneurship", for want of a better term.

Finally, if you can't stand Donald Trump, you'll love Richard Branson. Where Trump is all bluster, Branson is all action. Yes, many of Branson's escapades are of the hedonistic thrill-seeking variety, but that's not what this book is about and it's not what Branson is about. Where Trump is all about Trump, Branson is all about the world. Where Trump is all about counting money (yes he does do philanthropy too), Branson is all about making money count for something. My point - while the book does a great PR job for the Virgin brand, Branson's tone is humble and unassuming, so don't get put off by the brash title.
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on December 24, 2011
First off, I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the book. I agree that businesses can and should do more with the environment and social issues. This is what drove me to read this book. I was disappointed in how the book was written. I was hoping for a book explaining how to set up a sustainable business, or what companies can do to become more sustainable. Instead, the book is all stories. If you want a feel good book, this is a great one to read. If you are looking for a more serious discussion of corporate social responsibility (CSR), then this is not the book for you. Some of the parts of the book seemed to me like he was bragging about what he has done. I had to put the book down a couple of times because I got so tired of stories, and stories about what he and his company has done. Stories should provide the emotional support to a well thought out and argued book. This book was not well thought out and argued.
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on August 8, 2012
I'm a big fan of Richard Branson and his brand of business that blends philanthropy and social development. The stories and examples of social entrepreneurship and partnerships that Virgin's organizations and others helped spur were truly inspiring and provided ample food for thought and emulation. Beyond the level of organizational collaborations, Branson wrote at length of the many characters and personal connections behind the scenes that brought about change for good in the world. Those were the highlights of the book.

The writing itself however was execrable and (for me at least) detracted from the otherwise overwhelmingly positive and inspiring message of the book. Perhaps it was a conscious editorial decision to allow Branson's personal communicative style to predominate throughout - it certainly bears a chipper, upbeat and optimistic tone that would well be immensely engaging in the course of a conversation. In the form of a book however, it comes across as rambling, repetitive in the use of stock phrases, overly self-congratulatory, and don't get me started on the name-dropping. Large parts of it seemed to go over old ground that was covered in his earlier book Losing My Virginity e.g. his childhood and early enterprises, his friends and cohort of early change-makers etc. While the intent might have been to communicate a sense of simplicity, accessibility and disarming guilelessness, methinks the services of a good editor would have made a world of difference. After all, the book had a message to deliver, and I believe a better-organized way of relating it would serve as better and clearer guidance. As such, it could have been a lot shorter and more impactful without losing the essence and enthusiasm of Branson's voice in the telling. I'm not even sure how much of a differentiation there was between the early chapters as the themes bled into each other, which made my reading experience feel not only tiresome but also less memorable (in the sense of clear lessons derived) than it should be. That said, I do realize that most people do not read Branson's books for their literary merit. As such, I'd grant that his message remains inspiring and hopeful even if the way in which it was told leaves much to be desired.
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on February 2, 2012
As a founder of a social and environmental think-tank, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to my colleagues in the world who would like to start up something that makes the world a better place. Everytime I open the book, my mind starts to spin and my heart beats faster as I get inspired by the many stories and examples Richard gave. I have learned, for example, about Skoll Foundation and his Participant Media, or about Re*Generation (youth homelessness), or about the Elders.
Caveat: this is not a social science book, so those of you who expect a rigorous treatment (with data and formulae) will not find your rigorous evidence here. If, however, you read it to find ideas and inspirations to better this world we live in, then I recommend you buy this book right away. Simply the most valuable book I have ever bought and read.
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VINE VOICEon December 10, 2011
I can't put it on the required reading list at business schools but I will make it required reading in my course - more info at [...] - and I have lots of folks from top business schools who take it.

Richard Branson has said what sorely needed to be said - that the function of business is to "do good", to solve some social problem and profits are a by-product of doing this well. He says bluntly "The focus on profit being king has caused significant negative, unintended consequences."


Branson is a billionaire and that means he has a Stentorian voice when speaking to MBAs and would be Masters of the Universe. He has also spawned - under the Virgin name - hundreds of wildly profitable enterprises and that means that lots of folks in the private equity and hedge fund world will pay attention to him even if they presently don't agree with him.

And his message is one that badly needs to be aired.

There is a pernicious doctrine floated by some economists and assiduously propagated by top business schools to the effect that it is the function of a business to concentrate on profits and "maximizing shareholder value" and any attempt to focus on social good is a dereliction of duty on the part of managers. Supposedly this "maximum profit" will enrich the shareholders who will then use it in private philanthropy for the good of society and do it better than the business could have.

There is a still more pernicious doctrine that uses "agency theory" to "align" the interests of managers with that of shareholders in this quest. The way to do this is to award senior executives massive blocks of stock.

People do react to incentives and what we have today is a system where ingenious and intelligent executives engineer stock price movement to enrich themselves and are pressured to do so by "investors" who have not a shred of interest in the long term viability of the institutions that they traffic in.

It is also a myth that the "market" rewards those who "add value". Highly compensated executives use this argument to justify their outsized compensation. The sordid reality is that such compensation is not a reflection of value created but that of where power has been amassed and is frequently an abuse of that power.

Branson is well aware of where business has gone astray and issues a clarion call for a different approach. He also forthrightly admits that he has been part of the problem and it is exceedingly rare for a senior executive to state this so openly. "It's the story of my seven year journey towards realizing that, while business has been a great vehicle for growth in the world, neither Virgin nor any other businesses have been doing anywhere near enough to stop the downward spiral we all find ourselves in; and that in many cases, as demonstrated by the recent financial crises in the world, we have actually been causing that spiral to turn ever faster. We are all part of the problem: we waste, we squander and, to put it bluntly, we screw up."

Branson does not believe in "charity" or throwing money at social problems. "Writing a cheque might impact hundreds of peoples lives; mobilizing your whole business to drive change can impact millions of lives, and give a whole new life purpose to all the people who work in your company."

And that is what makes Branson's views so powerful. He recognizes that the new generation wants to do stuff that has meaning and advocates giving them the means to do so and creating an entirely different business infrastructure that is rooted in this philosophy.

He calls his new approach "Capitalism 24902". The circumference of the earth is 24,902 miles and the name is an attempt to get across that every part of the globe has to be involved in this initiative. And he gives examples of how many of the Virgin enterprises are hewing to this line.

"All of our aviation businesses have teamed up to focus on how we can minimize our carbon output, from innovative new approaches to weight reduction on the plane through to investing in new types of biofuels. To me this is a wonderful example of how this new Capitalism 29402 can work: driving change into the core of our businesses and partnering with our community and great front-line organizations to make change happen in everything we do."

In Branson's view business is the vehicle that will change the world for the better because it has the manpower and the capital to do what needs to be done. What is needed are different metrics to measure "success" and the intention of employees and executives to use the business as a vehicle to create scalable good in the world at all levels.

So he created Virgin Unite, not just as another "charity" but as an "integral part of the Virgin Group philosophy and at the core of everything we did as a group." Branson underwrites all of the operating expenses of Virgin Unite so all contributions go 100% and directly to the frontline.

Screw Business as Usual gives you lots of examples of companies and individuals who are living the philosophy Branson describes. The late Ray Anderson built up Interface into the world's leading manufacturer of carpet tile and also a leading polluter. After seeing the light he admitted his errant ways and became a leading spokesperson for environmental sustainability. He also reduced worldwide total waste by 40% and discovered that such measures were good for profitable. He was very active in telling business that "profits or environment" was a false choice and sustainable measure also boosted profitability and reduced waste.

Aravind Eye Care Systems in India uses the grocery chain store model to perform more than 300,000 surgeries a year and treat 2.5 million patients. Revenues from paying patients fuels growth and expansion and subsidize treatment to the poor.

This book will inspire you. And leave you optimistic about the future.

And I am rooting for Branson to become the role model for entrepreneurs and businesspersons. We don't have enough such worthwhile models.
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on December 4, 2012
I was given Screw Business as Usual for Christmas and was excited to read a book by one of the world's great entrepreneurs, but the book didn't turn out to be quite what I expected. Screw Business as Usual is Mr. Branson's guide to how he thinks business should be conducted in today's world. He believes that a business's focus should not solely be on profit and instead should incorporate the well being of the people it affects and the world as a whole. He also gives examples of how this shift in focus can be profitable and may in the long run be a sound ecological and economical decision.

Mr. Branson relates many personal tales of how his philanthropy has helped millions around the world. He focuses on sustainable giving instead of simply throwing money at a problem and through his actions has shown how running charities as businesses can create prosperous self-sustaining forces for good. Even within his own organization the philanthropic found Virgin Unite is designed to create, not just consume, wealth. In his own words, "I run Virgin Unite just as I would any other business, making sure that our investments have the best possible social and environmental return."

Screw Business as Usual is filled with enlightening and heart-warming stories. One is left with a sense of hope while reading example after example of businesses doing good, and still making a profit. From the barely running two person start-up to the multinational corporation a new approach to consuming the earth's resources will lead to a better future for everyone. It's uplifting to hear that not just Branson but many industry leaders are coming to realize, and implement, this approach towards business. At the same time Screw Business as Usual is not the easiest book to read.

Although he may be a brilliant and caring business man Richard Branson is far from a great author. Each few pages follow a similar path: Story about how XYZ began, how Branson felt and thought about it, "screw business as usual," real world example of a business doing good. Repeat. After reading the title of the book for the fifteenth time I started to dread seeing the phrase again. If he wasn't so successful and the ideas in the book weren't as engaging I'm not sure I could have made it to the end.
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on February 18, 2014
This is a gift I give to many of my executive friends who are trying to gain insight around the role they play as a corporate leader and person of humanity. It gives language and track record of how these ideas have actually worked out for creating change and inviting humanity into our corporate thoughts.

There are tons of nuggets in here and for Branson fans it will not disappoint on the whole amazingness his visions offers. Here is the quick lowdown o the social change stage he sets.

Philanthropy is an integral part of the corporate philosophy and is actually at the core of everything we do, So why not change our heads on the topic? Here is your permission slip.
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on January 7, 2012
Concept is brilliant. Book is boring. It never delves into the humanity nor the pure business side of things. Editors gave Richard a pass. They shouldn't have.
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on January 5, 2013
... even if they're somewhat redundant in parts. I mean, how many different ways can the guy tell his story? Occasional repitition notwithstanding, Branson is entertaining, insightful, pragmatic yet very creative ... and loaded with common sense. If only the rest of the business world and our dumbass governments could think and follow-through the way he does -- the world would be a far better place ... and a lot more fun.
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on January 18, 2014
I thought this was a pretty good read. I enjoyed learning more about what businesses are doing to change the traditional model of profit only thinking. I would have liked to learn more about each of the companies and their business practices than the book described though.
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