It may come as a surprise, but Richard Branson wasn’t always the over-achieving entrepreneur that he is today. Sure, he was in business by the age of 20, but he was also a high school drop out who was under investigation for tax evasion and looked like an unwashed hippie. He did however manage to turn his life around and is now the head of a multi-billion dollar empire who has his sites set on space. So what makes Sir Richard so special, and how did he achieve so much success in a single lifetime?
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Mr. Branson recognizes that you won’t be truly successful unless you enjoy what you’re doing and allow time for fun. He himself has stated that when he no longer enjoys a project, it’s time to move on from it.
And no, I’m not just referring to the flight attendant uniform incident.
What good is a leader who is stuck behind a desk? You can’t very well lead from an office can you? Sir Richard literally makes it his business to get out and about to visit his employees, as well as his customers. He has mentioned in interviews that when he is on one of his flights, he will go and meet his crew and passengers with a notebook in hand. He states that this way he can both hear and record their ideas. Despite being as busy and important as he is, he takes their names and email addresses and makes a point of responding to them by the next day.
His philosophy is to run large businesses in the same way as a small one‒by being responsive and friendly. This is a successful philosophy to have, because both his staff and customers are left feeling appreciated he himself is humanized. Happy people equals loyalty, hard work and ultimately profit. This is impossible to achieve if your only contact with your employees is through the occasional company newsletter and a Christmas card that has obviously been signed by your secretary.
This follows on from the previous point. He’s a good leader because he’s present and takes the time to listen. How can you lead if you don’t have any real idea of what’s going on in your company. And by that I don’t mean the head office where people leave early on a Friday but then demand the retail stores cut staffing and work overtime for free. Branson gets off his ass and makes sure he knows exactly how his businesses are being run on each and every level. This is what makes him a good leader. He ensures that he has genuine knowledge and that his staff members are allowed input.
Sir Richard recognizes that in the modern world, it is notoriously difficult for a company to survive unless it stands out in some way. In fact, you have to be radically different. Take Virgin Atlantic for example. They’re known for their outstanding customer service. Branson made this a priority aboard his planes because he was sick of subpar service on other airlines. The fact that his flight attendants are also renowned for being particularly attractive is a subject for another article.
In addition, Virgin Atlantic were also the first company to offer premium economy, in-seat entertainment, onboard beauty therapists and drive through check in.
Despite being such a success today, things didn’t always look so rosie for Richard Branson. For starters, he suffers from dyslexia, which made both reading and learning certain things incredibly difficult. Although this still effects him today, he has never let it hold him back.
Furthermore, he experienced a myriad of problems at the beginning of his career. Some of these included cash-flow problems, tax issues, law violation and even a night in jail. Instead of giving up, he chose to learn from his mistakes and use them to guide him later in life. It also inspired him to educate himself in certain areas of business so he could persevere and succeed.
Richard Branson hasn’t been successful by following along with what everyone else does. He breaks the rules and takes risks, albeit calculated ones. After his early career troubles, he learned that innovation was the key to success, but that some confines were necessary. As such, he uses his past mistakes and intuition to guide him and engages in trial and error when it comes to new ventures. Perhaps the greatest lesson that he learned was that failures can lead to great ideas.
Branson has never been afraid to say “yes” to new concepts, ideas and pursuits. This is why The Virgin Group is now an empire made of over 200 diverse companies. He hasn’t simply stuck to one area; he has branched out. He’s always ready to learn and try something new.
As previously discussed, Branson shows his staff respect and takes the time to meet and listen to them. This in turn makes his employees both proud of and loyal to their company and boss. This is imperative, because the best ambassadors for a brand or company are those who work for it, and Sir Richard has recognized that this will ultimately help make them successful.
Any successful person who is at all decent knows that it’s their social responsibility to help those in need and do some good for the world. For those who believe in karma, this makes a fair amount of sense. From a pragmatic viewpoint, it also shows that you’re caring and not a greedy, money grubbing pig. This kind of positive publicity is good for profits, as well as the people you’re aiding.
Despite his relatively humble beginnings, Branson began giving back to the community at the age of 17. He did this by starting his own charity and he has pledged money to countless others since. He is known particularly for his educational work in Africa, as well as pledging three billion dollars over the next decade to go towards reducing global warming.
Branson started with a local newspaper and has built eight separate billion dollar companies, but he’s not stopping there. Next on his agenda is conquering both the ocean and space. Move over, Kirk and Nemo.
Virgin Galactic is being planned for suborbital space, whereas Virgin Oceanic will be used to explore the lowest trenches of the deep and probably discover R’lyeh. Tell Cthulhu I said “Ia ia.”
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