This man has fascinated me since I read his first book. I have watched him grow to an enormous success. I am fascinated by his logic, and by how he meets and greets the world and business, with such confidence and pizzazz. I don’t know him personally, but I feel I do. I love to read about what he is sticking his nose into, what his next projects are. He is so unafraid of failure and so futuristic in his thinking. Branson is the driving force in the centre of a web of over 200 companies that employ over 25,000 people worldwide.
The last time I flew from USA to Australia I flew with “V Australia” which is part of the Virgin airline group. In the past, I have normally, always, flown with Qantas. However, I thought I would give Branson’s airline a go (actually my primary motivation was the price. It was $1,500 cheaper). On the way over to the United States I wasn’t so impressed because we had a 7 hr delay due to fog, but I guess you can’t blame the airlines for that. During the delay I kept thinking I could have been sitting in the luxury of the Qantas lounge if I had been flying Qantas since I am a Qantas club member. Anyway, enough of that.
On my return trip, flying back to Australia, I was totally impressed with V Australia.
Los Angeles airport is the drabbest and most impersonal airport I’ve every experienced in the world. I never encounter very many smiles and the decor is awfully depressing and on top of that, they’re always doing some renovations. In this bleak environment is one shinning contrast… V Australia.
When you walk into the “V Australia” terminal, which was Terminal 3, it is quite a pleasant change. The colors are bright, red, white, and silver. I was there on December 5th so there was a Christmas theme. They had little Christmas trees on every desk and the music was a popular feel good music. It made you feel you were going on holiday. The staff was bright and cheery, such a pleasant atmosphere.
I thought I would tell you that story as a preamble to what I am about to write, about Sir Richard Branson, why he is a success, how he thinks out of the box, and that I have experienced some of why he is a success.
The Source of my information comes mainly from an article in the Australian Business Solutions magazine by the Author Des Dearlove who wrote “Business the Richard Branson Way”
Lessons From Sir Richard Branson
The Virgin Empire has now branched into hotels, consumer goods computer games, music and of course airlines. They have gone into financial products such as pensions, credit cards, loans and life insurance. So as you can see his company is sure spreading its wings.
Branson has distilled Virgin’s four-core expertise.
1. The ability to identify appropriate growth opportunities.
2. The ability to move quickly.
3. The willingness to give day-to-day management control to small operating teams. He says he likes to keep his companies small.
4. The ability to create and manage effective joint ventures.
Branson has built one of the world’s greatest and well-known brands. Here are some of his business secrets:
1. NEVER GIVE UP
Branson has had his share of failures and knows that setbacks are just par for the course; however, his persistence and unshakable belief in his own ability enabled him to shrug off disappointments.
Even today he is still faced with the occasional failure such as Virgin Cola, and problems with virgin trains in the UK.
Branson observes, “Whenever I experience any kind of setbacks I always pick myself up and try again. I prepare myself to have another stab at things with knowledge I have gained from the previous failure. My Mother always taught me never to look back in regret, but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time that people waste on failures, rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. A setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.
2. PLAY THE UNDERDOG
Pick someone bigger than yourself. “At Virgin we have a strategy of using the credibility of our brand to challenge the dominate players especially in industries where we think the consumer is not getting value for money.”
It is David against Goliath. Virgin took on the might of the British Airways.
“We looked into the financial marketplace and realized there were over 600 companies selling pensions and other investments and all charged the identical high prices. They were all the same. They all had” upfront commissions, high annual fee, and Mr. 10% in the middle raking in a fat commission it was like a giant cartel.”
Sir Branson launched “Virgin Direct” saying that the consumer had been taken for a ride for too long by an industry that can hide its charges. He comes across as a crusader and a champion of the people.
3. KEEP IT CASUAL
His third lesson is to keep it relaxed, it’s good for business. He is always dressed in sweater and open neck shirt, which is his trademark. His style is casual and anti establishment. Pony tailed men with beards walking into Coutts & Co, one of the oldest banks in the UK was always a little surprising to many.
This story illustrates his perception: In the early days of Virgin it was having a bit of a cash flow problem. Branson had to go ask for a loan from the manager of Coutts Bank. Virgin’s staff argued that he would have to swallow his pride and put a suit and tie on. Branson’s argument was, “If I suddenly turned up at the bank wearing a suit and tie they will know we are in trouble.”
He went to the meeting wearing jeans with the explanation that because the business was expanding so quickly they needed a bigger overdraft. He got the money.
4. MAKE WORK FUN
Play hard. Work hard. He believes it’s an attitude that encourages loyalty from the staff. He has extravagant thank you parties for the Virgin staff.
Branson always treats his staff very well. “Staff should always come first, if it means making 5 million less, then that is the right decision.”
A Branson watcher, Alan Mitchell observes: “He captivates the public and employees by the unexpected prospect of making the grey world of work sparkle with fun and excitement”.
Everything is negotiable. One of Branson’s well-known talents is his sharp negotiating technique. He rarely comes out second best. It also helps that he has the “cheek of the devil.” As Branson’s biographer, Tim Jackson (author of the Virgin King) observed, “When there is business to be done Branson loves to haggle. He has the aptitude for negotiations. When the company was small and he was striking agreements on his own Branson had enough cheek to demand far more than he ever hoped to win—but also enough patience to argue a deal point by tiny point if needed”
6. STAND BY YOUR BRAND
Guard your brand at all costs. Brandon took his inspiration from Japanese brands; “No one has a problem playing a Yamaha piano, having ridden a Yamaha motorbike that day or listening to a Mitsubishi stereo in a Mitsubishi car, while driving past a Mitsubishi bank.”
He believes there are five key factors to Virgin and that is:
1. Value for money,
4. Innovation, and
5. Indefinable but none the less palpable sense of fun.
The Branson philosophy is… look after your brand and it will last.
7. SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
The seventh lesson is generating copious amounts of publicity rather than pay for advertising.
He explains, “Up to the time I launched the airline, I was a shy person. I did not like doing interviews so I avoided the press. I took my mothers advice to let my business speak for itself. Freddie Laker (the airline entrepreneur) said that if I was going to take on American Airlines, United and British Airways I would never have the advertising budget that they employ… but if I went and made a bit of a fool of myself I would get on the front covers.”
He has been making headlines ever since. Putting on a dress, and astronaut’s outfit. “I have worn almost every costume there is to wear,” says Branson. “It makes back page photo into a front page and they come back for more,” He has worn a stewardess uniform to promote his airline, a wedding dress, and high heels for the launch of his bridal stores and many other outfits for promotion.
8. DO NOT LEAD SHEEP, HERD CATS
This is the eighth lesson about leadership. Branson does not expect people to follow him blindly. He operates as a back seat leader. He finds talented people and then creates a challenging and fun environment with which they can thrive. He inspires, enthuses, cajoles, provokes, and acts as a catalyst for entrepreneurial reactions within the company.
“Staff is not just merely hired hands. They are not managerial pawns in some gigantic chess game. They are entrepreneurs in their own right.”
9. MOVE FAST
“One should just get on with it and learn from mistakes.”
“I love what I do because everyday I am learning something new.”
He has a passion for taking on and out – maneuvering large corporations.
10. NEVER LOSE THE COMMON TOUCH
Branson’s lesson is a combination of humility and pragmatism that means he keeps the finger on the pulse.
Imagine that you are a passenger flying economy class with your family on a transatlantic flight with a leading airline. Some time into the flight a man you immediately recognize as the chairman of the airline, introduces himself and asks if he can join you. He interacts with the kids with games. Then asks what do you think of the airline? Is there anything I can do to improve the service?
Branson still retains an everyman aura, people see him as the ordinary man in the street.
Not everyone sees him this way; of course some suspect that beneath the jokey disarming exterior there is a ruthless businessman. How else could he be successful? Others prefer to see him as a hippy idealist and likeable rogue that struck it lucky.
“I am lucky to know everybody.” Like I said, I feel I know him, like so many others who think they know him.
SOURCE: Australian Business Solutions magazine.
Mr. Des Dearlove is the author of “Business the Richard Branson Way” published by Capstone. His books are available in more than twenty languages.