Knee In The Groin: Sparks Fly In Branson/Walsh Rivalry

Open Jaw

Richard Branson

Willie Walsh

Flamboyant entrepreneur and Virgin founder Richard Branson has lots of fans. Willie Walsh, who runs British Airways parent company IAG, is not one of them.

During an interview at the Ulster University Business School last week, Walsh said bluntly that he had “no admiration” for Branson, adding: “I don’t buy all the bullshit about him.”

The comments, published by the Belfast Telegraph, drew a quick response from Branson. “There are some leaders who strive to inspire their teams; there are other leaders who choose to influence by belittling others,” Branson wrote on his Virgin blog. “As a leader it is incredibly important to praise people for doing great things. When people are given encouragement and support, they flourish.”

Referring specifically to his rival, Branson said it was “disappointing that the current head of BA, Willie Walsh, is continuing to make childish comments directed at yours truly and others.”

The battle between the 2 Brits is not likely to end soon, not least because of an unusual wager that Branson describes: “More than 3 years ago, he bet me a ‘knee in the groin’ that Virgin’s brand would disappear within 5 years. Since then we have been concentrating on constantly improving Virgin Atlantic’s service for our customers, by investing in our people, our close partnership with Delta and by continuing to evolve our brand.

“Now,” Branson continued, “with his inimitable charm, Willie has stated: ‘I don’t buy all the bullshit about him,’ referring to me. Well, it won’t be long before we know who was and who wasn’t talking bullshit and we’ll see whether he’s willing to honour his bet.

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