Sir Richard Branson will not rule out running the long-awaited Edinburgh trams as one of his next projects, saying he would be enthusiastic about the idea of taking it on.
Virgin empire has already branched out into trains, airlines and even space travel.
Yesterday the tycoon Speaking exclusively to the News after a visit to Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools (ESMS), the billionaire said: “If we feel that we can improve anything and do it better than it’s being done at the moment, we are always interested.”
He revealed he ended up running trains after a “journalist splashed it across the front page” of a paper. “I then had to find a managing director to build a train company,” he said. As such the entrepreneur was loathe to rule out finding “a managing director to build a tram company” after viewing the finishing stages of the project for himself for the first time.
Sir Richard has certainly brought a golden touch to other transport ventures, with Virgin’s recent successful launch of its Little Red domestic flights from Edinburgh Airport, and high hopes that his East Coast train franchise Inter City Railways Ltd, a partnership with Stagecoach Transport Holdings Ltd, will be successful in the bid for the London-Edinburgh network.
He said: “The team transformed the West Coast main line and all passengers have a pleasant experience travelling on Virgin trains.
“Some 33 million people use it instead of 12 million, so we’d love the chance to make improvements to the East Coast main line.”
Sir Richard said that the Little Red flights from Edinburgh were “going great” and although there are no immediate plans to expand, Virgin Atlantic may run international flights from the Capital “one day”. He is still confident – and “ridiculously excited” – that Virgin Galactic’s first flight into space will happen this year.
And he hinted Scotland could still be in the running as a site of a possible spaceport. He said: “Hopefully one day Virgin Galactic will be flying from Scotland.”
With the Scottish independence referendum just around the corner, Sir Richard said the outcome is “not a business issue” as none of Virgin’s headquarters are based north of the Border.
But – speaking from the back of a people carrier as he whizzed through the Capital – he urged everyone to use their vote on September 18.
He said: “I think it would be presumptuous of me as an Englishman to come up to Scotland and tell them what they should do. The Scottish people, I think they should all get out and vote.”
On his whistle-stop tour, Sir Richard paid a fleeting visit to ESMS’s junior school to speak to excitable youngsters about the Virgin-sponsored Fiver Challenge.
Groups of primary six and seven pupils have been given £5 to start a project and build a mini-enterprise. Members of the craft group – who made cards and book-marks – were delighted when Sir Richard bought some of their creations. But the 63-year-old magnate – who has a net worth of £3 billion – had to ask a staff member for money to buy the kids’ stuff as he wasn’t carrying any cash.
Sir Richard gave a speech at the Scottish Business Awards at the EICC last night.
Celebrities hail capital winners
SIR Richard was among a host of celebrities who attended the gala event.
Sir Tom Hunter, Ultimo bra founder Michelle Mone and former Formula One racing driver David Coulthard were among the guests.
Winners from Edinburgh included Rockstar North, for best product, while Leslie Benzies picked up the accolade for best chief executive
Tesco Bank won the Company Culture award and the Leith Agency best employer.
Entreprenueur Sir Angus Grossart won a special award for outstanding contribution to Scottish Business while document generation firm Hot Docs won the international award.
Aberdeen Asset Management won the overall prize for best company of the year
The awards were created and organised by John Littlejohn, co-founder of Edinburgh-based Social Bite, the sandwich shop chain which provides the homeless with work opportunities.
Mr Littlejohn said the turnout “highlights the strength of the Scottish business community.
He said the awards had raised £1m over the last three years for good causes