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Flexibility is key to Virgin Mobile's success, CTIA delegates told

LAS VEGAS - The ultimate goal of any company should be to end up with a brand that consumers trust, according to Dan Schulman, CEO of Virgin Mobile.

Mr. Schulman stood in front of an audience of thousands of wireless executives at CTIA Wireless' keynote and talked about Virgin Mobile and how the company built its brand to what it is today.

"We've learned many lessons," Mr. Schulman said. "We have never followed the business models everyone else does, regardless of the inevitable criticism from both financial and marketing analysts. That's OK, though, because the best ideas and best ways of doing things are often rejected."

Mr. Schulman then introduced Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group.

Sir Richard told the story of Virgin Group and how it became what it is today.

"When we first thought of the name Virgin Group, it was our way of trying to appeal to a younger crowd," Sir Richard said. "The patent office gave a hard time with the name and thought it was rude of us to use Virgin in it."

Eventually after some time, Sir Richard got his patent and the record company launched. Artists found the name controversial and attention-grabbing, and so the company did well.

One day Sir Richard was ticked off over the service he received from an airline he used.

"Imagine the ridicule we got from British Airways when we decided to launch an airline," he said. "The airlines I was using had no entertainment, the quality was bad and the food was even worse."

Launched under the name Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard's airline brought Virgin values to the airline. But marketing and financial analysts did not understand what an entertainment company was doing launching an airline.

"We had the right people and the right product and having the entertainment brand behind us did not hurt either," Sir Richard said.

For years the company launched many more subsidiaries and everyone kept wondering when this balloon would burst. In essence, when would the brand overstretch?

In 1999 Virgin Group launched Virgin Mobile, the first notion of prepaid mobile phones for the British market. Virgin Mobile is now used in the United States as well.

What has Virgin Group done to earn respect from consumers?

"We fight climate change," Sir Richard said. "Today there is no excuse for ignorance and climate change is important to address. The loss of life that will occur in our lifetime will be devastating and the life lost in our children's lifetime will be catastrophic."

With that, last October Virgin mobile went public.

"I think the key to our success is that consumers need flexibility, something we are able to provide them," Sir Richard said. "Have a good relationship with manufacturers, too."