If you have ever studied for an important qualification, led a change programme, started a business, acquired a company or been asked to hit an ambitious target or goal at work, you will know there is a moment in time when you feel so overwhelmed by the experience that you feel like giving up.

Climbers scaling Mount Everest often refer to the final few feet to the summit as being the toughest.

‘So near, but so far’ describes that unique moment on many people’s life journey.

My Everest-type experience involved the writing and publishing of Building the Pyramid – a leadership fable set in ancient Egypt about a Pharaoh’s quest to build the perfect pyramid.

The pyramid is a metaphor for growth, agility, success and sustainability and the book is based on my life’s experience of working with leaders on their unique growth journey.

Great journeys involve a sense of adventure, challenges along the way and great people.

The Building the Pyramid journey experience was no different.

I gradually became consumed by the work, exhausted at times and eventually in need of additional stimulus to help me complete the book. I had reached the ‘so near, but so far’ moment on the journey.

I needed help. I needed a few wise words of advice or encouragement to help me get over the line. 

I decided to contact two of my heroes, Richard Branson and Charles Handy.

1. Richard Branson is the inspiration behind the Pharaoh depicted in the story. He has embarked on more journeys than probably any other entrepreneur in the world. He is an adventurer. He is a modern-day Pharaoh. The challenges, events and outcomes described in the book would resonate with him.

2. Charles Handy is the inspiration behind the Sage depicted in the story. He is one of the world’s leading business philosophers. A wise man. A Guru. An original thinker. A man who has influenced my career, my leadership thinking and how I view the world of learning.

Both Richard and Charles are prolific authors. I hoped they would offer me a few wise words which would help me move forward and complete my journey.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson splits his time between his private residence, Necker Island and his world-wide humanitarian causes and business ventures across the world.

He spends a lot of his time in the air and is a man difficult to track down.

I followed up my letter to him and to my delight, Building the Pyramid was already on the Virgin administrative system.

‘He will definitely get back to you, expect a response in six weeks’ time,’ I’m told.

Branson Day was launched, becoming an important calendar date in the Stein household.

I waited for the call. Forty two days passed. Occasionally I allowed myself to daydream and imagine his call coming through to me at a conference or at a public event.

‘Excuse me folks. I’m expecting this call………Hi Richard, how’s it going? What’s the weather like at Necker? Thanks for getting back to me. Sorry you are breaking up……did you say you love Building the Pyramid?…….’

Madness I know. But to quote Richard ‘Unless you dream, you are not going to achieve anything’.

Branson Day finally arrives and there’s no mail, no message and no call over the six week period.

I felt disappointed.

I headed off to bed that night muttering something about ‘flamingo’s, windsurfing and partying’.

It proved difficult to sleep and my mood changed from disappointment to anger.

Bad thoughts entered my head.

‘I will never buy another one of his books again. No flying with Virgin Atlantic either. Forget his trains, I will drive to London the next time. And as far as ‘Tubular Bells’ is concerned, it’s banned from this house.’

I didn’t actually think about Mike Oldfield’s classic album. I made it up. But you know where I’m coming from.

Tubular Bells is the opening soundtrack to the Exorcist and for a few brief moments Branson is the devil.

My wife tried to make me see sense.

‘Branson is busy. He is constantly on the move’, she said. ‘Look at his lifestyle. Over 400 business interests, Charitable causes dear to his heart. He’s a family man. He receives thousands of requests each and every day. He’s probably busy writing his own book. What on earth made you think he would contact you?’

I had to admit she was right. The busiest, most travelled entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist in the world was never going to have the time to get back to me.

In the middle of the night, well 3.47 am to be precise, the phone bleeps by the side of the bed.

Bleary eyed, I looked down at the message.

‘From Richard Branson re Building the Pyramid’.


I jumped out of bed. I woke up everyone in the house. I woke up everyone in the street.

And I developed a skill I never knew I had – speed reading.

I read the message again. And again. And again.

What a surprise. What a guy. What a Pharaoh!

What a message!

And in a few short paragraphs I received the shot in the arm I needed to carry on and complete Building the Pyramid.

Thank you Richard Branson.

But then when I thought about it later, was it really a surprise to hear from him?

Success on any journey is influenced by great leadership.

Great leaders create journeys that others wish to be part of. Great leaders inspire everyone they come into contact with. Great leaders are great communicators. Great leaders deliver on their promises. Great leaders also  surprise others in a positive way. Great leaders understand the positive impact they can have on others. Great leaders come to the rescue.

Great Pharaohs were great leaders.

Richard Branson is a great Pharaoh. A modern-day Pharaoh dedicated to changing the world for the better and making a positive impact on the lives of others.

And when I needed help, he came to my rescue.

When you need help, who will come to your rescue?

Do you know any Pharaohs?

Best wishes on your journey, wherever it may take you.