Will Whitehorn on calculated risk

Will Whitehorn

In this interview with CalvinAyre.com’s Becky Liggero, Will Whitehorn of Virgin Galactic points out that facing risk without fear is key to any business success, including the gambling business. In the case of the Virgin group, he says the company “really didn’t approach risk from the point of view of fearing it.”

Wilbur and Orville Wright – collectively known as the Wright brothers – made their way to history books as aviation pioneers who flew the world’s first successful airplane.

But the Wright Brother’s success did not happen overnight. It took them years of trial and error to conceptualize and invent the three-axis control, which would enable the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain equilibrium. Most importantly, they took all the risk in order to become successful.

Just like the Wright brothers, Virgin group founder Richard Branson took the risk of taking over the beleaguered Laker Airways, which was hit badly by the 1980 recession.  By understanding the problem at hand and with the help of his team, Branson was able to turn Laker Airways – now known as Virgin Atlantic Airways – into a profitable business.

Will WhiteHorn of Virgin Galactic pointed out that facing risk without fear is key to any business success, including the gambling business. In the case of the Virgin group, Whitehorn pointed out that the company “really didn’t approach risk from the point of view of fearing it.”

“It saw risk as necessary cost of innovation to make a successful business which would one day will make lots of people, lots of money by doing something better,” Whitehorn told CalvinAyre.com.

He recalled that there was a time when the people around Branson discouraged the Virgin group founder from pursuing a project – particularly with the plan to put an in-flight entertainment in the airplane – in order to compete with other air carriers.

“Richard came up with an idea of doing a much better service on-board: More rock-and-roll, in-flight entertainment. He was the first person to ever put a seat-back television on the plane, the first airline in the world to do it. He just want to give people a better service and he thought really that the best way to do that was to simply think of all the best ideas, do it differently to other airlines and just get fly,” Whitehorn said. “In fact, the least one aircraft of Boeing in 1984, and they didn’t really have much of a business plan beyond the fact that they thought they could make the business work if they made a better quality and cheaper and of course one of the things that happened was that people around him didn’t think it would work.”

WhiteHorn said Branson’s daring business attitude has catapulted the company to its success.

“One of my beliefs is actually Richard was dyslexic and as a result of that, he never saw that as a problem. He saw that as just the way he was and I think it gave him a way of viewing the world around them. He is going to cut to the chase,” Whitehorn said. “He’s really good at giving people kind of clear direction and empowering people. I think one of the things that any organization that works has to do with empowering people that work for it and Virgin has always have great reputation doing that.”

As word of advice, Whitehorn believes that analyzing the whole business situation and managing expectations are key to a successful business ventures. He said these are the things he has done to steer Virgin Galaxy, which pioneers commercial space travel, toward success.

“Risk is about managing expectations, number one, for the people who are funding something or backing it. It’s about working out what the real risks are and thinking all the things you do to mitigate them,” he said.  “So, if they saw it that way, then it would be actually possible to put risk in its box, and the box where risk belongs, these are the things that could go wrong, these are the things that we’ll try to do to stop it from going wrong, these are the unintended consequences, and these are the ways we will manage them. And having a really good plan and executing it is the best way to manage risk.”