Sir Richard Branson is an English business mogul and investor. He co-founded the Virgin Group, now a multinational brand with over 400 businesses in various industries such as entertainment, travel and lifestyle. Branson is known for his risk-taking approach as an entrepreneur and his flamboyant style.
A Short Biography
Richard Branson was born on July 18th, 1950 in London. He had dyslexia and had a difficult time in school. This led to him dropping out of school at age 16. He started a magazine for youth, by youth called ‘Student’, which was his first entrepreneurial venture.
In 1970, he got the idea to start a mail-order record company; it was successful enough that he then opened a record store in London. This would be the beginnings of Virgin Megastores, Branson’s chain of music stores. His next venture was a music label, Virgin Records, which was started in 1973. As an independent label, Virgin Records signed controversial acts such as the Sex Pistols, Genesis and the Culture Club, and grew to become of one of the top labels in the world.
Branson continued to expand his business interests into other industries. Among them, he founded Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984, Virgin Publishing in 1991, and Virgin Mobile in 1999. One of his latest ventures is Virgin Galactic, a company that manufactures rockets and develops commercial spacecraft with the aim of making space tourism possible.
Along the way, he encountered some setbacks, notably when Virgin Airways hit a rough patch in the early 1990s. Branson had to sell Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI, a move that brought him to tears. This incident changed his business approach to one he calls “branded venture capital”, wherein wealthy investors put in the capital for a new business and Branson licenses the Virgin brand name and manages the company.
This strategy has proven to be massively successful for Branson. Today, the Virgin Group is a multinational brand with over 400 businesses in various industries such as entertainment, travel and lifestyle. The company has over 70,000 employees worldwide and earned a revenue of US$24 billion in 2015.
Aside from his entrepreneurship, Branson is known for his philanthropy and support for humanitarian and ecological causes. He is also famous for engaging in outrageous publicity stunts for his businesses.
In 1999, Branson was knighted for his contribution to entrepreneurship.
Leadership Lessons from Richard Branson
1. Build a personal brand
The flamboyance and force of Branson’s personality has meant that he is synonymous with the Virgin brand. He is unapologetically enthusiastic about promoting himself and his businesses, and is always up for outrageous attention-grabbing marketing.
Whether it’s wearing a spacesuit at the launch of Virgin Galactic, jumping off the Palms hotel in Vegas, or dressing in drag after losing a bet with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, Branson’s personal brand as an adventurous, up-for-anything CEO is an integral part of Virgin’s appeal. In a world where companies tend to take a serious approach to their branding, his sense of fun permeates the Virgin brand and attracts customers.
What is your personal brand? How do others perceive you, and can you use that in a positive way to increase your influence as a leader? What value do you provide your team and your customers? If you build a personal brand that is authentic to you and your values, people will gravitate towards you and what you offer to the world.
2. Take risks
Branson’s success can be attributed to his willingness to take risks. He once said, “treat failure as a lesson on how not to approach achieving a goal, and then use that learning to improve your chances of success when you try again. Failure is only the end if you decide to stop.”
This Business Insider article lists 15 of his business failures, from Virgin Brides to Virgin Cola to Virgin Lottery. Branson was never afraid to set his foot in a new industry or to attempt to challenge big established brands. Instead, he was driven to take those risks as he felt there was room to better serve customers in that industry.
Branson’s fearlessness and resilience is something that all leaders can learn from. To break new ground in your work, move out of your comfort zone and do things differently! Taking risks can lead to exponential progress for you and your team. And if it doesn’t work out, use it as a learning experience for your next move.
3. Learn to listen well
“An exceptional company is the one that gets all the little details right. And the people out on the front line, they know when things are not going right, and they know when things need to be improved. And if you listen to them, you can soon improve all those niggly things which turns an average company into an exceptional company.”
Branson recognizes that learning to listen well is an important skill for a leader. He knows that a leader cannot work in isolation, and that feedback from the team can help put attention on any blind spots that the leader may have.
The ability to listen to your employees also helps build deeper connections with them. Listening well improves communication and understanding, which makes it easier to people to work together and achieve common goals.
The next time you’re speaking with a team member, take a moment and evaluate your communication style. Do you talk or listen more? What can you do to be more present in the moment? What can you do to empathise more and judge less? Here are some of our tips on how to improve your listening skills.
Quotes from Richard Branson
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”
“As much as you need a strong personality to build a business from scratch, you also must understand the art of delegation. I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.”
“I am prepared to try anything once.”
“The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.”
“To be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running, and if you have a good team around you and more than a fair share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it just by following someone else’s formula.”
“Fun is one of the most important – and underrated – ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.”
“To launch a business means successfully solving problems. Solving problems means listening.”
“All you have in business is your reputation – so it’s very important that you keep your word.”
“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.”
“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had — every day I’m learning something new.”
“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.”
“In business, if you realize you’ve made a bad decision, you change it.”
“My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again.”
“Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.”
“A passionate belief in your business and personal objectives can make all the difference between success and failure. If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing, why should anybody else be?”
“From a young age, I learned to focus on the things I was good at and delegate to others what I was not good at. That’s how Virgin is run. Fantastic people throughout the Virgin Group run our businesses, allowing me to think creatively and strategically.”
Richard Branson Leadership Video
Learn more about Richard Branson in this documentary: