Richard Branson has it all; money, power, influence and a love of life. He is the unabashed public face of his company and brand ambassadors like him are known to do more than just smile for the cameras. For instance, his high profile visits to India have always been accompanied by gimmicks, whether it is driving an auto rickshaw through the streets of Delhi or dancing on top of a Mumbai taxi. Yet, in spite of such self-promotion, his astute business sense is the biggest self-promotion of all.
In spite of his dozens of companies and the apparent ability to add value to everything he does, the key ingredient is simple: his commitment to his people. He has been quoted as saying “Businesses are nothing more than a group of people, and they are by far and away your biggest assets. In fact, in probably the majority of businesses your people are your product.” Right from when he and some business friends began ‘Student’, their first magazine, and later, Virgin Music, he has reiterated that employees are a company’s best asset, because, quite simply, happy employees make for happy customers.
As evidence of this, he believes in promoting from within the company so that they can take advantage of career opportunities unavailable elsewhere. He also delegates by taking middle management from a company that has grown too big, creating a new affiliate entity and promoting the staff to senior management. The benefit of this is that staff are given a greater incentive to perform well while still remaining close to clients, distributors, suppliers and other employees. He says “Remember to have fun. There is no point in being in business if it is not fun. Have fun with your team, your suppliers and the companies you work with. It is so much more rewarding to build up a healthy rapport than to find yourself in a constant battle. Don’t take everything so personally. Let your hair down now and again.”
He challenges accepted wisdom, encouraging his employees to do likewise. Looking at problems from the customer’s perspective has brought about surprising results. An example is his dissatisfaction with British Airways, which prompted him to start Virgin Atlantic. Recently he has done similar in Australia, taking on Qantas.
As always, his emphasis is on the customer, so it is hardly surprising that the airline is an enormous success. As he states, he only starts a business if he believes it will improve people’s lives. Another example of this thinking is Virgin Money, his British bank where he makes customers happy with comfortable seats, newspapers and tables available with Wi-Fi. The usual teller windows and queues have been banished.
In a LinkedIn post, Branson listed the following five tips that he has picked up over the years;
- Listen more than you talk
- Keep it simple
- Take pride in your work
- Have fun, success will follow
- Rip it up and start again (don’t let failure be the end)
In the end it’s all very simple. The most important partnership you have is the one with your staff. And as Branson says that if you get that right, your chances of success are that much greater. And if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. You must love what you do.