Published on February 20th, 20140
Branson: Behind the Mask by Tom Bower
Blurb: The image remains pristine: a charismatic high-school dropout turned billionaire, whose stratospheric rise and daring exploits have won him millions of enduring admirers and made him a model for aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the world.
But is this story still credible? Over the last decade, has Branson matched the expectations perpetuated by Virgin’s relentless publicity machine? Or have we all been seduced by a brilliant showman?
In his most explosive book to date, Tom Bower, bestselling biographer of Simon Cowell, Bernie Ecclestone, Conrad Black and Robert Maxwell, dares to explore the reality of the Branson empire. In doing so, he unravels the gripping story of his recent activities – from the astonishing success of mobile phones to his troubled airlines and his long delayed plan to send multimillionaires into space – and asks whether he really remains Britain’s heroic buccaneer.
Jonathan Ford, Financial Times
“One problem with Bower’s approach is that his thumb is always pressed rather too firmly on the scales. Branson is forever slightly in the wrong, whether for allowing initiatives to unravel, such as “The Project” – an ill-starred magazine app – or taking perfectly sensible commercial decisions, such as pulling out of a failing Formula One team. Bower questions Branson’s business acumen, criticising him for missing out on the internet and the low-cost airline revolution. But if it were so poor, Virgin would be much smaller than it is.”
Suzanne Moore, The Guardian
“Bower’s forays into the business world may be exhaustively researched, but there is nothing here of Branson the man or any attempt to understand his drive. For this I went back to Mick Brown’s authorised biography, so desperate was I to get out of the boardroom. I wanted some childhood, some salacious detail. Bower, for instance, mentions Branson is a philanderer but says no more.”
Dominic O’Connell, The Sunday Times
“The tone is unrelievedly negative… Bower could have done with a tougher editor; there is too much repetition, and we are often reminded about Branson’s 1971 arrest over tax evasion (he avoided trial by paying the amount due). You also end up wondering how, if Branson’s business empire is such a basket case, he has managed to keep going for so long. Bower also ignores Branson’s positive effects: he did challenge the near-monopoly enjoyed by British Airways on North Atlantic routes from Heathrow, he does raise millions for good causes and he remains a hero to generations of young entrepreneurs. A deeper criticism is that the book fails to discover much about the man himself.”
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Andrew Clark, The Times
“Bower harms his case by ascribing malevolent motives: Sir Richard’s attempt to set up NHS clinics, the book ludicrously suggests, was motivated by a belief that cannabis would be legalised and that Virgin could dispense marijuana. And his interest in the environment, Bower contends, is prompted purely by finding a cheap power source for Virgin Atlantic’s planes. But not even Bower can fathom why Branson is staking his legacy on a spaceship.”
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Nicholas Blincoe, The Telegraph
“Tom Bower can be a terrific journalist. Broken Dreams, the story of the Premier League’s first 10 years, is gripping. A biography of Bernie Ecclestone is very good. Yet his Branson books fail. The tone in this one is relentlessly sarcastic. The narrative is repetitive and tangled, despite the framing device of Virgin Galactic. Worse, minor facts are often wrong… Somehow, Branson brings out the worst in Bower.”
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