Most business leaders are taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach to a Trump presidency.
Not Richard Branson, who calls Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections “very sad, very frightening, very worrying.”
The billionaire founder of the Virgin group of companies was unflinching about what he called a “potential horror scenario.” He pointed to climate change, universal healthcare, and the global refugee crisis as critical areas where he feared Trump’s influence or neglect could “irreparably” reverse global progress to date.
“If what he says on the campaign trail happens to be fact, so many issues, issues that many of us spent our lives working on, will be set back,” Branson said today (Nov. 11) in a Q&A with Quartz editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney, at Quartz’s New York headquarters. “It’s pretty terrifying.”
Branson called out Trump’s position on climate change as particularly alarming. “Global warming is a reality, and having a president saying it isn’t, and many people surrounding him who say it isn’t, it’s like having people around him who say evolution doesn’t exist,” Branson said. “And he has a vice president who has said that.”
Like Trump, the 66-year-old Branson built his businesses by marketing himself. (He is in New York this week promoting a new documentary, “Don’t Look Down,” about his hot-air ballooning adventures). But whereas Branson has applied his promotional flair mainly to his business interests, Trump used his on the presidential campaign trail. This could signal a worrying trend for American politics, but Branson right now suspects this was an isolated case.
“Whether it was his personality that got him elected, and maybe it was …. there are lots of great business people in America who would have made great presidents,” he said. “Somebody like Michael Bloomberg should be able to get elected on his track record” rather than on showmanship.
Now, employees across Virgin’s companies are worried, Branson said, and some have asked if they could also move to the British Virgin Islands, where Branson makes his home. “Not in a jokey way, but in a serious way,” he said.
Responding to a question from the audience about whether companies will step up to protect employees if there is a need, Branson said he hoped that they would. He suggested that companies have a special case to make for respecting diversity, and for not trying to deport millions of undocumented workers when the US is near full employment.
“Since it’s the Republican party, maybe we can persuade them that it’s not good for business,” he said. “Maybe those are the arguments that they may understand more than just the social ones.”
The impact of Trump’s election on his own businesses concerned him far less than the social and political consequences, Branson said. In terms of business effects, he said the UK’s Brexit vote was much more damaging. “Brexit is the most devastating mess that could be bestowed on a country,” he said. “It’s like someone took a gun and shot themselves in the foot.”
In fact, some Virgin businesses may benefit from Trump. At Virgin Galactic, his fledgling space-travel venture, he said, “we’ve actually had a lot of people book in the last three days.”