Branson talked a great deal about his theories on running a business and I want to sum up what he said. Despite dropping out of school at 16, he considers himself a lifelong learner, and believes that is a key to being a successful entrepreneur.
He talked about hiring, saying that "The number one thing that matters, especially if you're going to be manager at Virgin, is how good you are with people. If you're — if you're good with people and you've got — you know, and you really care, genuinely care about people then I'm sure we could find a job for you at Virgin. I think, you know, that, you know, that the companies that look after their people are the companies that do really well. I'm sure we'd like a few other attributes, but that would be the most important one." That is interesting when you contrast it with this study from rob_businessert Half in which CFOs ranked people skills dead last.
How does Richard Branson run 300 businesses? He gave some insight into his methods. He typically spends 3-4 months investigating a new opportunity. He likes businesses where Virgin can be the David to an industry Goliath. If you make an extraordinary amount of money, Virgin will come in and challenge you. His criteria?
- consumer oriented
- potential to provide great value for the customer
- ability to have fun doing it
- potential for 25-30% return
Branson hires great people, gives them a stake in the venture so that they can make some good money if they are successful, and delegates. He says he has mastered the art of delegation, and that is something a lot of business owners can't do. He really seems to focus his time more on the end user experience, meeting customers and answering their questions.
Richard Branson said something that I love. "Business is all about life." This is something I believe strongly, and is a core component of my MoreSpace essay, "Why Business Matters." There is a touchy-feely-new age twist on Branson's approach to business, but it doesn't trump the analytical stuff, it complements it.
He also commented that you should put "employees first, customers second, and shareholders third." And pointed out that if your employees are happy, they will do a better job, which makes your customers happy, which leads to more sales, which makes your shareholders happy.
There wasn't much bad about this part of the night, but Branson did talk about some of his failures, like being plucked 5 times from the ocean on various stunt attempts.
The Money Quotes
On branding – "The brand is only as good as your products, so, I mean if people have a good experience on Virgin Atlantic or if they have a good experience on Virgin trains or, you know, if they have a Virgin mobile phone and they can get straight through to our people and they�re well looked after and then they�ll � they�ll try the next product that we launch. And so brand is something that you build over many years and you build and it�s something that it�s very important to protect and to keep trust with people."
On the name Virgin – "Despite the name of our company, our planes and trains do go the whole way."
On corporate culture – "A company is people…[employees want to know]…am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted."
Tomorrow I'll blog about the Q&A session that followed, a very interesting and exciting time in the program.
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