There is, says flamboyant British entrepreneur Richard Branson, a method to his madness. If his dangerous stunts and bizarre behaviour get him, and more importantly his companies, on the front pages of newspapers, Branson will more than gratefully go a little crazy.
The man who entered businesses because he believed he could do it better, or because he thought the existing players were short-changing customers, has interesting business mantras that he lives by.
A self-confessed dyslexic — he still mis-spells words — who was not able to complete his graduation, Branson believes his biggest strengths are his family, his love for people, his love for life and his ability to work extremely hard. Not to mention, of course, a strong sense of the outrageous enhanced by a strong sense of drama.
‘Business opportunities are like buses’
A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.
Business is giving people in their lifetime what they need and what they want. And you know, I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on. Occasionally we’ll come unstuck and you know, we’ll learn from our mistakes but so far I think we’ve managed to get it right more often than we’ve got it wrong.
Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.
I believe in benevolent dictatorship, provided I am the dictator.
‘I never get the accountants in before I start up a business’
I never get the accountants in before I start up a business. It’s done on gut feeling, especially if I can see that they are taking the mickey out of the consumer.
I love the freedom of movement that my phone gives me. That has definitely transformed my life
Ridiculous yachts and private planes and big limousines won’t make people enjoy life more, and it sends out terrible messages to the people who work for them. It would be so much better if that money was spent in Africa – and it’s about getting a balance.
The music industry is a strange combination of having real and intangible assets: pop bands are brand names in themselves, and at a given stage in their careers their name alone can practically guarantee hit records. ‘Quickest way to be a millionaire? Borrow fivers off everyone you meet’
With the casino and the beds, our passengers will have at least two ways to get lucky on one of our flights.
If you are trying to do something for the first time, it’s always an enormous challenge, and there is no guarantee of success. You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.
What’s the quickest way to become a millionaire? Borrow fivers off everyone you meet.
Fortunately we’re not a public company – we’re a private group of companies, and I can do what I want.
You can’t be a good leader unless you like people’
We’ve got an engaging, edgy, vibrant, fun product. . . It may or may not work, but we’re going to give it our best shot.
Well, I’m somebody who is just living. . . living life, and if I get frustrated by something, then I like to try to put it right.
Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.
We look for opportunities where we can offer something better, fresher, and more valuable, and we seize them. We often move into areas where the customer has traditionally received a poor deal, and where the competition is complacent. And with our growing e-commerce activities, we also look to deliver �old’ products in new ways. We are pro-active and quick to act, often leaving bigger and more cumbersome organisations in our wake. When we start a new venture, we base it on hard research and analysis. Typically, we review the industry and put ourselves in the customer’s shoes to see what could make it better.
I wanted to be an editor or a journalist’
If I was a businessman, or saw myself as a businessman, I would have never gone into the airline business.
I wanted to be an editor or a journalist, I wasn’t really interested in being an entrepreneur, but I soon found I had to become an entrepreneur in order to keep my magazine going.
My mother was determined to make us independent. When I was four years old, she stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home across the fields. I got hopelessly lost.
Records are made to be broken. It is in man’s nature to continue to strive to do just that.‘There’s no model to follow, nothing to copy’
Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. . . . That has always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.
We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.
We’re going where no one has gone before. There’s no model to follow, nothing to copy. That is what makes this so exciting.
Peter Gabriel — a Virgin artist for 20 years — is still pre-eminent in the business. Whether the new artists will do the same is more questionable.All you have in life is your reputation’
I’m inquisitive. . . and I love a new challenge. . . and if I feel that we can do it better than it’s been done by other people, we’ll have a go. Some people call that ‘brand stretching’ and say that this is not the way business should be done, and in the Western world generally it’s not the way business is done. And I think to be perfectly frank the reason it’s not done that way is that most big companies are public. . .
All you have in life is your reputation: you may be very rich, but if you lose your good name, then you’ll never be happy. The thought will always lurk at the back of your mind that people don’t trust you. I had never really focused on what a good name meant before, but that night in prison made me understand.
My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable, challenges and trying to rise above them.
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.
‘I don’t think of work as work’
I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.
I’ve had to create companies that I believe in 100%. These are companies I feel will make a genuine difference. Then I have to be willing to find the time myself to talk about them, promote them and market them. I don’t want to spend my life doing something that I’m not proud of.
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.
If you’re good with people�and you really care, genuinely care about people then I’m sure we could find a job for you at Virgin.I overcome my difficulties by concentrating’
Our model is to develop each business separately with its own shareholder and management — this way we can concentrate on the job in hand, rather than be part of some enormous and faceless conglomerate.
Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.
Some 80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn’t you have fun at work?
If a chairman of a company visits Seattle, that chairman should take all the staff out in the evening and have a few drinks together, talk together and party together and not be embarrassed about the staff seeing the weaker side of you.‘I don’t think I’ll ever retire’
Because I don’t see Virgin as a company but as a way of life, I fully enjoy it. I don’t think I’ll ever retire.
If you get your face and your name out there enough, people will start to recognise you.
Many people know the Virgin brand better than the names of the individual companies within the group.
I have always believed that marketing starts with the product, not what you say about it. If you develop an excellent product with value that is right for your customers, then marketing it should not be difficult.‘If you don’t take risks you won’t achieve anything’
We promise value for money, and we try to do things in an innovative way, in areas where consumers are often ripped off, or not getting the most for their money. I believe we should do what we do with a sense of fun and without taking ourselves too seriously, too! If Virgin stands for anything, it should be for not being afraid to try out new ideas in new areas.
If you don’t take risks you won’t achieve anything.
I have no secret. There are no rules to follow in business. I just work hard and, as I always have done, believe I can do it. Most of all, though, I try to have fun.
Wine, like life, is meant to be enjoyed.I just love life’
Three months of running a business or trying to set up a business and you will learn, I suspect, as much as you can learn in three years at a business school.
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.
Clearly in the eyes of the consumer the brand has not been diluted, but we must guard against that happening at all costs.
I just love life. I mean, you know, I love every second of it. I love people.My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself’
Everyone needs something to aim for. You can call it a challenge, or you can call it a goal. It is what makes us human. It was challenges that took us from being cavemen to reaching for the stars.
A lot of chairmen of a lot of companies are terrified of the press. Our attitude is if CNN wants an interview you never say no, you always say yes, because we want to become the most respected brand in the world and we have to get out there and talk about what we are doing.
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.
Fantasizing about the future is one of my favourite pastimes.A company is people’
I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying yes than by saying no.
When I graduated from Stowe, a big public school, my headmaster’s parting words to me were: �Congratulations, Branson. I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.’
I have always lived my life by thriving on opportunity and adventure. Some of the best ideas come out of the blue, and you have to keep an open mind to see their virtue.
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.‘Branding is everything’
Branding is everything. A young girl once came up to me and told me I could be famous because I looked just like Richard Branson!
Back then we would create a company based on frustration at other people’s service and suddenly realised we had one of the most respected brands in the world.
If you aren’t willing to try everything and make a mistake, then you’ll never make anything of yourself.
I just like to enjoy life and push myself. Of course, there is method to my madness. When you are entering into a new industry, for example, it helps to do something to get your name on the front pages.