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Mirror Group Limited

As a leader Richard Branson is tough and overt, he is a visible and open manager with strong morals and values. This successful leader is as approachable as he is wealthy and he bestows confidence and in his employees. They know that they can speak to their manager, have their thoughts heard and not face any backlash from speaking out. Virgin employees can also play an active part in the direction Virgin enterprises takes. During the mid 1990’s a Virgin flight attendant approached her employer and suggested that a Virgin cosmetics brand would be a ‘sound’ direction for Virgin to move in, her boss responded by saying ‘Go and do it’ Branson offered her all available expertise and resources, and today ‘Virgin Vie’ cosmetics is a well established and respected cosmetics firm.

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In marked contrast Robert Maxwell portrays very different approaches to employee involvement in the company. Maxwell takes charge of all departments of Mirror Group Limited, dealing with expansion, financial matters and moving money around the organisation. Maxwell performs his managerial roles covertly, with only a selected number of easily corrupted and obedient employees by his side. Maxwell successfully buys the silence and loyalty of his close associates on projects and deals that essentially are against morality and ethical principles.

His employees did not have freedom of speech as speaking out against Maxwell often resulted in dismissal or being reprimanded. The Mirror boss used intimidation, bullying and humiliation as a means of keeping his employees from speaking out. The company could have been described as having ‘glass ceilings’ in that although employees could see higher positions etc. they could never be reached as Maxwell decided whom would best keep his secrets and employ them into executive positions. Richard Branson aims to empower his employees, which involves giving them more ‘autonomy, discretion and unsupervised decision making responsibility’ (1999 Buchanan: pg273). He believes the employees are the backbone of the company, he states ‘Successful management of employees is paramount to successfully managing the company’ (Losing My Virginity).

Motivational tools were used by the two esteemed managers, but in extremely dissimilar ways. Maxwell offered some employees a flattering salary to over look certain movements made by their boss, whereas Richard Branson, seemingly following Ritchie and Martin’s (1999) ‘motivational drivers’ theory, in that Virgin receive tangible/monetary rewards, recognition of work and achievement, well formed relationships and self satisfaction.

These methods ensure employees have goals and targets to strive towards. The balance struck within Branson’s enterprises is second to none; employees have opportunity to express themselves, progress within a company and to try obtaining new skills and training. Frederick Herzberg (1966; 1968) identified these processes as ‘Job enrichment’ a term meaning an employee could broaden their experience, have their needs provided for and motivation to encourage employees to keep on achieving and determined to further themselves. Although Herzberg’s theory was developed a number of decades ago, his theory and conceptualisation of motivation at work are still used in global organisation’s today, evidenced in the running of Virgin.

Robert Maxwell’s actions as a manager were not effectively obtaining maximum output from his employee’s, but Maxwell like Henry Ford before him, de-humanised the working environment. Both well-respected managers did not believe in job satisfaction, they implemented schemes and plans they believed to be suitable and without any discussion set out to make these plans possible, despite the evident ethical issues of treating employees in such a way.

Richard Branson’s styles and techniques as the leader of Virgin can be viewed favourably in accordance to theorist Maslow, who developed motivational theory naming it ‘Hierarchy of needs’ decades ago. ‘Do unto others, as you would like done to yourself’ is a key philosophy of Richard Branson’s and his concept of employee needs reflects such philosophy. Maslow developed a multi tier pyramid that describes, in order of importance the needs of the employee, creating an understanding of the factors affecting productivity.

Branson’s attempt to create one large Virgin family, providing safe working conditions and a comfortable environment satisfies the first three tiers of Maslow’s pyramid. The employees feel they belong to a greater whole, they are safe and they are in sound and comfortable working buildings. Virgin’s employees are some of the most envied in the UK, employees are given responsibility for tasks, decisions and resources, giving them authority, demanding respect of others and creating a great sense of self worth. With reference to the latter tier, Virgin employees are told to suggest and contribute any ideas to their manager who is willing to listen, they are given autonomy and powers to make a positive difference to the company in doing so employees are given opportunity to express themselves more freely and to innovate new ideas, fulfilling levels four and five of Maslow’s model.

Regrettably, it could only be said that Mirror Group Limited provided a safe, comfortable working environment. The control of Robert Maxwell meant employee potential went unnoticed and respect from management was minimal. Barnard identified ‘Decision making’ and ‘delegation’ as two key elements of management. He believes that a successful organisation has these two as main company techniques. Later writers, such as Herbert Simon advocated the two techniques as ‘core’ principles of management and are essential for corporate prosperity. Robert Maxwell however, the self confessed self-educated social mogul, did not accept any management theory and proceeded to use his own methods of getting things done regardless of the consequences. He can not be said to comply with Simon’s core principles, he is an irrational and selfish man, he does believe in decision making but only he can make the decisions.

With reference to Barnard’s (1938) theory, Maxwell did possess authoritarian and decision making powers, but he kept all the power to himself, he could not be forced to adopt contemporary, rational methods of management. Richard Branson could if he wished, personally decide on what ‘course’ Virgin Enterprises takes, but he generously allows a high degree of employee involvement in decision making, and encourages employees to provide unbiased, constructive criticism and feedback as an effective way for Virgin to evolve and progress, a concept deemed essential by Herbert Simon.

Theorists past and present suggest managerial techniques and strategies, which increase employee motivation, aiding company progression. Solely close reading of a handbook and analysis of all management theory does not create good managers, Branson acknowledges this in his autobiography as quoted earlier. Branson seems to adopt similar principles to Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton, Mintzberg and Herzberg but these similarities are not an indication of a managers’ style.

As Peter Drucker, (The Practice Of Management 1995) pointed out…. ‘Management by objectives’ is the only effective way of delegating authority in a large company. He believes that the most successful way to manage a company to meeting its needs is to have goals/targets that have been decided upon collectively after discussion and should be decided upon and implemented by all segments of hierarchal echelons of the company.

It should not be assumed that Peter Drucker and Richard Branson advocate a ‘Laissez Faire’ approach to Management; the pair do not believe a lack of management input and a free reign is a sufficient strategy. They both believe greater integration on all levels proves most effective. Ethics are another element that distinguishes Maxwell and Branson. Branson’s largely a moral figure that is not seen as exploiting others and performs all strategy and decisions legitimately. Profit is not obtained to the cost of the employee. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Maxwell, his actions before his death in 1991 were in contradiction of all ethical and moral values. Maxwell was ruthless, dishonest and deliberately deceptive, he took money from his employees pension fund in order to finance extrovert and lavish lifestyle as well as funding new ventures. By his death he had took over �400million from his employees, leaving many in doubt over their financial future.

The diverse management styles go far beyond theory; it appears evident that Maxwell lacks compassion and guilt, whereas Richard Branson is well endowed with compassion and morality and behaves in a way that does not make him morally or legally culpable. Notably Branson and Maxwell have been extremely good managers and leaders, placing themselves in the very heart of the corporations for very different reasons. The analysis of two greater leaders has been an interesting insight into the involvement and role of a manager within a company. The choice of Branson and Maxwell has provided a well-balanced formula for this assignment, clearly there are ways to and not to manage, although they can still prove successful a more humanistic approach provides the most efficient and rewarding outcomes.

It must also be noted that Branson and Maxwell created both Virgin and Mirror Group Limited identities over a number of decades, their techniques no matter how diverse have developed empowerment and obedience from employees, and has ‘keyed’ into the very heart of employee fulfilment to produce a highly productive and efficient workforce. Maxwell and Branson over the years have produced workforces envied by the world and has created similar factions around the world using western management techniques.


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