Life-changing lessons on Richard Branson’s island

Life-changing lessons on Richard Branson's island

I recently returned from a life-changing experience on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, shared with an amazing group of entrepreneurial minds and internationally renowned speakers.

It was the most incredible learning experience one could wish for. The people, the bonds built, but also the time to reflect on my journey and the future was special. Humbling, inspirational and unusually grounding, an experience I will never, ever forget.

When reflecting, only a book could possibly do this experience justice, but I will attempt to pass on some of the lessons that I will never forget.




Branson is an amazing person, he is extremely spirited, cheeky and fun-loving. He always has amazingly talented people around him he never forgets the essential requirement of enjoying what you do! He is a reminder to us all that business and life in general should always be FUN! Like kids in a playground, we must always stay connected to fun and enjoy our professional journey.




Dr Libby Weaver, one of Australasia’s leading biochemists, authors and speakers, reminded us all of the importance of our physical health. Fuel yourself right, it is the greatest form of self-care, nutrient deficiencies cause fatigue. Stress and guilt stimulate the wrong hormones and this has huge biochemical impacts that we ignore. We all know how to eat well, exercise and breathe deeply so what is stopping us doing it? The reality is we do not give this the focus it needs and deserves. It means our bodies are not ready to take us on the journey we are sending them on.




Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author who reminded us of the importance of trusting ourselves, as we are all programmed to be successful. Let the world use you; stop forcing or searching and really listen. Spirituality is something I have personally struggled with during my business journey and Marianne reminded us of its importance. It’s something I will be providing far more attention to in future.  She used the simple analogy that; “an acorn is destined to become an oak tree” – we just have to let it happen and stop getting in the way! Use relaxation and grounding techniques like meditation; as stillness is where the brilliance lies.




Jean Oelwang the CEO of Virgin Unite, talked about being more human at work. She challenged everyone to collaborate and understand the power of treating people as individuals who learn and respond differently. Jean reminded us that trying too hard limits your thinking. The new generation of great, progressive leaders are: inclusive, compassionate and forward-thinking. Are they words you would use when explaining your leadership style?




Alexa von Tobel, the founder and CEO of who is also an award-winning author and all-round pocket rocket, spoke about never underestimating the power of opening a door, and being honest and open about your options. You will be scared at times, but you need to look fear in the face. Alexa also reminded us the more you learn, the less you actually know. Always be open to learning from people and never rest on your laurels.




Jane Wurwand the founder and owner of the internationally renowned skin care company Dermalogica spoke about staying connected to your tribe or team. She explained how stories engage people and success comes when your tribe is engaged with your mission. Businesses owners must stay connected to not only their mission, but the feeling they had when they realised what their mission was. She was passionate about only hiring “dream believers” and advocates letting people go if they do not fit in with your culture or don’t perform. Advice which seems simple, but how many of us live by this?




Matt Mullenweg the co-founder and CEO of the open-source blogging platform WordPress that now supports 25% of the world’s websites, spoke about thinking outside the square, disruption and always looking for options. We don’t have to do what we have always done. Matt talked about true disruption, but also reminded us you can re-invent good ideas which already exist and put your unique stamp on them. You don’t always have to invent or disrupt, you should carefully pick your battles. As an entrepreneur I can really relate to this one, the solution is often closer than e think!




Captain Mark Kelly retired NASA astronaut and naval aviator and his courageous wife Gabrielle Giffords, former Congresswomen, and the youngest women ever elected in the Arizona State Senate; taught us that resilience and fighting spirit are essential qualities. Gabby was shot in the head from point blank range in 2011 and survived. The long road back she took to be able to address us was nothing short of inspirational, highlighting the fight we all have inside us.  Mark reflected on the dramatic days following the shooting and told us; when you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything, but always work on the problem and never give up.

He also spoke of the important lesson NASA learnt had when investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, which was “none of us is as dumb as all of us”,  a statement now mounted on the agency’s boardroom wall. It refers to groups being persuaded by the loudest and most senior members and not allowing everyone to contribute to decisions, hence not acting like a group at all. Mark also used this wisdom when he asked a junior doctor for her thoughts on the next operation Gabby should undertake in her recovery.

Seeing these amazing people speak was incredible and their words and lessons will remain with me forever. Getting to know them at breakfast, lunch, dinner and even while learning to kite surf was priceless. But probably the biggest lesson was how giving and genuine these amazingly successful people are. Interestingly, they were learning from us more ordinary attendees and were just as interested in our businesses, families and journeys as we were about theirs. To say the experience was priceless is a gross understatement, I am extremely grateful.

Hanging out with some of the best entrepreneurial minds on the planet and connecting with them socially has reminded me of the importance of giving back, sharing and being there for my team, colleagues, friends and my family.
Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.


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