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As Richard Branson’s right hand man, Will took the space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, from a vague dream to a project with real spacecraft and its own spaceport. Now involved in businesses from communication to tech to cutting-edge transport systems, including as a long-term non-exec with online estate agents Purplebricks, Will also considers brand, disruption and innovation in a world of fast-changing technology and increasing customer expectations.
As a search-and-rescue helicopter crewman in the North Sea, Will once had to pluck Richard Branson out of danger. He went on to become Virgin Brand Development & Corporate Affairs Director, a Special Advisor to the Virgin Group, and Branson’s right-hand man.
After working on large scale Virgin projects including the Pendolino train, Will took up the post of President of Virgin Galactic. He was at the hub of one of the most exciting business ventures of the early twenty-first century: commercial space travel. He brought it from a nascent dream in the mind of Richard Branson to a project with real spacecraft, test flights and a spaceport.
Will steered Virgin Galactic from concept to reality. He convinced investors, oversaw technical plans and developed a strategy which will soon lead to daily flights one hundred miles above the Earth’s surface. Few can claim to be involved in such a breakthrough project.
After handing over to a US-based President for the next phase of the project, Will returned to brands and communication, whilst continuing his involvement in disruptive and innovative businesses. He was a founding shareholder and director of the online estate agency Purplebricks, where he remains a non-exec. He also holds Chair and board positions at transport group Stagecoach, online gaming group GVC, three brand and communications companies, and mobility innovation company Transport Systems Catapult. He is also a director of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the government funding body for scientific research, is the President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILTUK), and is President of UKspace, the national space industry trade body.
In presentations Will draws the distinction between invention and innovation – and argues that with the right incentives the private sector can create a whole new industrial revolution in space and what this could mean. He looks at how to engender a culture of innovation and what that means, looking at those who do it best, and the common practices amongst them. He also explains how Virgin can go almost anywhere, from cola to credit cards to space, and even if a particular venture doesn’t work out, the brand and the company values remains undamaged.
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What’s so impressive about Will is how passionate he is about new ideas and innovation, combined with a steely focus on beating the competition! Listening to his story, you realise you're getting an insight into the dawn of mankind's next giant leap – it’s hugely inspiring. JLA Agent Millie Thomas
Conference Speaker Will Whitehorn JLA Speaker Breakfast on Innovation at Virgin