Understanding a Virgin: Richard Branson
Understanding A Virgin: Richard Branson INTRODUCTION “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts. ” `Our paper permits the reader to accomplish two goals: First, to understand the remarkable life and achievements of Richard Branson (Branson). Second, to impart to the reader several key traits and behaviors that permitted Branson’s entrepreneurial success. In short, through this case study, one learns about a great entrepreneur.
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More importantly, by learning about Richard Branson, we hope that the reader will engage in a process of further research – to include introspective considerations on what defines their own leadership style. BACKGROUND “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. ” Born on July 18, 1950 in Surrey, England, Branson was the son of an attorney (father) and flight attendant (mother).
Branson, who suffers from dyslexia, dropped out of school at the age of 16 to start his first business venture, a youth-culture magazine called Student. See above picture courtesy of Time Magazine. Student was Branson’s first of many successful entrepreneurial ventures. Next, Branson founded Virgin, a mail order record company in an effort to help fund his student magazine. Based on the modest profits of Virgin, Branson was able to expand his business, adding storefront property for sales of records.
Branson expanded Virgin into a recording studio that garnered significant profits from the acquisition of major artists such as the Rolling Stones, Culture Club, etc. Branson has constantly expanded his entrepreneurial efforts to include travel (Voyager Group), airlines (Virgin Atlantic), radio stations (Virgin Radio), a train company, a luxury game preserve, a mobile phone company, a space tourism company, etc. Today, Branson’s Virgin Group holds more than 200 companies in over 30 countries. See Appendix A.
Apart from his entrepreneurial success, Branson is also known for his sporting achievements (hot-air balloon) and his humanitarian efforts (Elder Group). For his contribution to entrepreneurship, Branson has been knighted. Branson has a self-made fortune of approximately $2. 5 billion. He owns two private islands. Branson is married and has two children. Branson is widely recognized for his entrepreneurial success. He has been on the cover of over 20 magazines. BRANSON’S SUCCESS: SKILLS AND TRAITS Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming. ” Clearly, Branson is a remarkable entrepreneur. His phenomenal success in business has been the study of countless academics. Although academic analyses of successful entrepreneurs (Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Vera Wang, etc. ) are unable to form consensus on the traits that lead to success, several characteristics have been universally cited as crucial to avoid failure.
Using Dave Lavinsky’s article, “Entrepreneurial Skills and Traits: Are You the Next Richard Branson? ” as a springboard, the remainder of our paper analyzes Branson’s success in terms of the following four universally recognized skill sets necessary to avoid failure: leadership and vision, focus and execution, persistence and passion, and technical skills. LEADERSHIP AND VISION “I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator. ” To avoid failure, entrepreneurs must have a vision of where their company will be in the future.
In our study of Branson, it was evident that Branson is superbly adroit at developing a vision and then successfully communicating his vision in a clear manner that motivates and garners strong loyalty within his employees, investors, and partners. Branson’s leadership style and vision started in his youth. At the age of 16, Branson had dropped out of school and had started his first business. From the early success of his Student magazine to his latest exploits into iPad pplications, television channels, and space exploration, Branson has infused his hands-on, out front, flamboyant leadership style in an effort to capitalize on the counter mainstream, cool and hip, customer first brand that is Virgin. Today, Branson has amassed the Virgin Group of business. His group of businesses is successful across several unrelated industries. Ultimately, Branson links his companies through a common Virgin Group vision that states, “We believe in making a difference. Virgin stands for value for money, quality, innovation, fun and a sense of competitive challenge.
We deliver a quality service by empowering our employees and we facilitate and monitor customer feedback to continually improve the customer’s experience through innovation. ” (Virgin) This succinct yet powerful vision reflects Branson’s leadership style and vision. As the Virgin Group CEO, Branson structured his executive management team to ensure that the companies within his enterprise would be assisted not encumbered. To avoid needless bureaucratic oversight, Branson created a small senior executive team with limited, clearly defined roles.
Enterprise companies within Branson’s Virgin Group are encouraged to operate autonomously. Ultimately, Branson’s Virgin Group leadership team remains keenly focused on broad, strategic goals – such as maintaining the Virgin brand, focusing on customer happiness, and expanding into new markets. In short, Branson’s executive team is designed to serve as a steering group that reviews innovative ideas and pushes subordinate enterprise businesses to take risks and to be creative. At the centre, Virgin Management Ltd (VML) provides advisory and managerial support to all of the different Virgin companies. ” (Virgin). In turn, each enterprise business unit is expected to succeed in their core mission leveraging Virgin Group management as necessary for support. Branson is widely regarded as a leader that challenges the status quo and is committed to the customer. “Contributing to his success is his ability to lead people to innovate and grow. This philosophy sets the tone for the management team within the Virgin Group. (Stange). Branson’s life and business experiences have resulted in the creation of a business leader that is willing to trust his instincts and his intuition. From an early age, Branson found success by creating businesses based on his passion for music. Over time, as the Virgin brand grew, Branson focused his energy on entering established industries to challenge outdated or poorly executed business practices. Branson repeatedly pits the Virgin vision and brand against established and powerful incumbents.
A prime example of Branson’s ability to challenge the industry status quo was the Virgin Atlantic Airways battle against British Airways. In short, Branson’s charisma and energy and his history of success against more powerful industry stalwarts has created an enterprise of companies that are willing to challenge the status quo to provide a better customer experience. In addition to his business pursuits, Branson has been a zealous advocate for social causes throughout his life.
Branson’s first advocacy organization was founded shortly following the establishment of his Student magazine. Over the years, Branson has established non-profit foundations focused on hunger, the environment, and humanitarian justice issues. Over time, Branson has pursued his vision by leading his Virgin Group enterprise to take on challenges – whether business or social in nature. FOCUS AND EXECUTION “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over. ” Over the course of his personal and professional life, Branson has experienced phenomenal success.
However, Branson has also learned valuable lessons through his willingness to take risk and to accept and learn from his failures. As discussed in the previous section on leadership and vision, Branson crafted an organizational structure for the Virgin Group that permits sharp focus to remain on making sure that goals are achieved while both customers and employees remain satisfied. Branson has not permitted the pursuit of perfectionism from preventing action. Branson’s career as an entrepreneur is defined by his lack of fear and focus on the end result.
Branson has always been one to take risks. He leads without hesitation. From the age of 16, Branson has acted on his intuition and has been willing to “make a go of it. ” Today, Branson attributes a portion of Virgin’s success to its informal, flat structure and the ability for rapid information flow. In short, Branson cites the business advantage of being able to quickly receive and act on information from his business entities. Branson credits the pervasive Virgin business culture as a major source of pride and a critical force behind his business success.
In the article, Thinking Big, written for Entrepreneur magazine, Branson noted that “laying a solid foundation for the future is critically important” to success. Branson continued by noting that his passion for, and love of, the music industry resulted in his initial success. Today, Branson credits his conglomerations success more to his ability to permit each of his subordinate level companies to embrace a culture that permits employees to engage in decision-making without ever losing sight of the critical customer service centric focus.
In a recent article titled, Richard Branson: The Secrets to Achieving Success, the concept of venture capitalism is appropriately attributed to Branson when the author notes that, “a new style in business was born from Richard Branson‘s gut wrenching experiences – branded venture capitalism. ” Branson’s willingness to take risks and continually look for new opportunities is born of self-confidence, relentless drive, and the pursuit of excellence. PERSISTENCE AND PASSION “Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming. ”
Branson acknowledges that he is extremely passionate about his pursuits – business, sport, humanitarian, social. It is widely accepted, that to avoid failure, an entrepreneur must be prepared to commit whatever is necessary – time, energy, money – in the short term. Ultimately, Branson serves as a model of persistence and perseverance. Today, Branson’s passion is most visibly seen in the form of a relentless commitment to ensuring the Virgin brand remain untarnished in its appeal as a edgy, customer focused company with a conscience that cares for its employees.
Branson demonstrates his commitment towards his customers and employees by repeatedly soliciting and acting upon their ideas. His ability to promote and reward creativity and nonconformity has resulted in a motivated workforce and a customer that feels empowered. In a recent Entrepreneur magazine article, Branson noted that while the Virgin brand lacks a singular business focus, “Virgin sees a uniting factor in our dedication to customer service. ” Branson is constantly in motion pursuing goals with the belief that one should follow their instincts.
Branson constantly implores his employees to “follow their hearts; do something you are really passionate about. The Virgin businesses that have done well over the years have always been the ones where we came up with an idea that everyone in the company really cared about and was committed to. ” Going hand in hand with Branson’s passion is his persistence to ensure enduring success for the Virgin Group. Adamant about garnering greater success for the Virgin brand, Branson has overcome his personal dislike for public speaking and his shyness to leverage his public persona for the advancement of his business ventures. Larson 1987). Branson has created a public persona that is associated with daringness and adventure. Branson has pursued personal challenges – world record for fastest speedboat crossing of the Atlantic, circumnavigation of globe in a hot air balloon – in an effort to simultaneously find personal satisfaction while also garnering significant attention for his Virgin Group. For instance, his circumnavigation of the globe in a hot air balloon emblazoned with the Virgin logo has been estimated to have garnered approximately $25 million in free advertising.
Today, Branson continues to play up his “unpredictable” personality to push the Virgin image. (Larson). Branson does not fit the normal mold of a boardroom businessman and he doesn’t want to. Branson is passionate about his people and customers and he in turn expects them to share their passions with him so that the Virgin Group may continue to grow. TECHNICAL SKILLS “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. ”
As the leader of Virgin Group, it would not be possible for Branson to be a skilled technician knowledgeable in the every business within the Virgin enterprise. Instead, as discussed previously, Branson created an organization structure that permits him to make informed decisions by relying on the advice of his technical leaders. These technical leaders are granted significant autonomy to run their businesses without unnecessary bureaucratic oversight. Inherent in the job of a leader is the need to be able to effectively communicate and positively influence action.
Branson, as the leader of Virgin Group, has the opportunity to influence a wide audience. Given the wide array of varying companies that comprise the Virgin Group, Branson must at times educate himself on the unique technical aspects of different industries and their associated processes. However, Branson need not become a technical expert in every industry or process. While in other settings it may be required for a leader to have technical expertise to make appropriate business decisions, Branson has structured the Virgin Group to alleviate this need.
Instead, Branson may rely on companies to make executive decisions based on their assessment of the technical field that they operate in. Only in rare situations, after appropriate briefing and a careful weighing of the potential options, will Branson be required to make decisions on a matters peripherally related to technical processes. No one expects Mr. Branson to understand the astrophysics and aerospace engineering that is required to send a passenger vessel into space as is the goal of Virgin Galactic. It is more important for him to have a willingness to admit that he doesn’t know the process but to take the time to ask questions.
It is his job to send a coherent message to the technical experts that he cares about what they do and how they do it. This is a skill that Branson has demonstrated successfully. In Branson’s opinion, delegation is one of the most critical skills for success in his current setting. However, when Branson was selling advertising for the magazine Student, without the benefit of a store or even a phone, he was not a delegator. Instead, Branson was a technical expert in the field of sales. Later, Branson ran his own record store and signed his own music labels.
It was at this juncture that Branson was an expert in operations. In short, Branson has worked his way up to a point where he may delegate responsibility for details that he no longer has the capacity nor need to acquaint himself with. Today, Branson effectively delegates, in part because he has the previous background and experiences to know what questions must be asked and which issues must be closely tracked and supervised. Importantly, Branson understands the roles and responsibilities of the team that he employees. Further, he trusts his employees and the leaders of the Virgin Group companies.
This permits Branson to make intelligence decisions relying on the advice and analysis of his trusted advisors without the need for bureaucratic micro-management. The concept of technical competency and technical expertise is a very difficult one for many leaders to understand. A great strength of Branson is his ability to have a competency in many fields while not spending his time working toward a technical expertise. CONCLUSION “Most of our businesses do succeed, but if something completely fails, then as long as we bow out gracefully and pay off all our debts, and nobody gets hurt, then I don’t think people disrespect Virgin for trying.
The public appreciates someone having a go; it appreciates the attempt. Who’s been a success in life who hasn’t failed? ” In conclusion, Richard Branson has been wildly successful in his attempt to profit by risk and initiative. By providing a window into this remarkable man’s life, the reader was presented with insight into how the characteristics of focus, persistence, passion, vision, leadership, execution, and technical competence were demonstrated by Branson. Branson provides an uplifting story of one man who overcame significant odds to create a global corporation that stands out as a model for others to emulate.
Equally as important, Branson has set challenging goals focused on social and environmental causes that can benefit the global commons. In short, Branson provides an important case study for any student interested in entrepreneurship. References 1. Stange, F Charles. “Leadership of Richard Branson at Virgin Group Ltd – MGT/330. ” UPX Study Guides – University of Phoenix Homework Help. UPX Success, n. d. Web. 24 July 2011. http://www. upxsuccess. com/leadership_richard_branson. html. 2. “Virgin Group. ” About Us – About the Virgin Group. Virgin Group, n. d. Web. 24 July 2011. www. virgin. com/about-us. 3. Richard Branson.
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Branson, Sir Richard and Prescott, Colin. To the Edge of Space: The Adventures of a Balloonist, 2000, Box tree. ISBN 0-7522-1865-4 15. Branson, Sir Richard. Sir Richard Branson, the Autobiography, 2002, Longman. ISBN 0-582-51224-7 16. Branson, Sir Richard. Losing my virginity: The autobiography, 2005, ISBN 0-7535-1020-0 17. Bower, Tom. Branson, 2001, ISBN 1-84115-400-8 18. Branson, Sir Richard. Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life, 2006, ISBN 0-7535-1099-5 19. Branson, Sir Richard. Screw It, Let’s Do It Expanded: Lessons in Life and Business, 2007, ISBN 0-7535-1149-7 20. Specter, Michael. “Profiles: Branson’s Luck”.
The New Yorker, 14 May 2007, pp. 114–25. 21. Branson, Richard (3 June 2010). Reach for the Skies: Ballooning, Birdmen and Blasting Into Space. Virgin Books. ISBN 9781905264919. 22. Branson, Richard (2 July 2009). Business Stripped Bare. Virgin Books. ISBN 9780753515037. 23. Branson, Richard (29 March 2007). Screw It, Let’s Do It. Virgin Books. ISBN 9780753511497. Appendix A: Business Ventures Timeline 1960s * 1966 – After failed attempts to grow and sell both Christmas trees and budgerigars, Branson launches his first successful business, a magazine named Student, the first number of which is appeared in January 1968 970s * 1970 – Starts selling records by mail-order * 1971 – Opens his first record shop on Oxford Street * 1972 – Opens a Virgin Recording Studio * 1973 – Launches Virgin Records record label * 1979 – Buys the gay nightclub Heaven, located under Charing Cross railway station. It is subsequently sold in 2003 to a private speculator. 1980s * 1980 – Virgin Records goes international * 1981 – Virgin buys the Kensington Roof Gardens * 1983 – Virgin Vision, later to become Virgin Communications, is formed to distribute films and videos in the television and broadcasting sector. * 1983 – Virgin Games is launched. 1984 – Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin cargo are launched. * 1984 – Virgin Vision (launched the previous year) launches “Music Box”, a 24-hour satellite music station. * 1985 – Virgin Group now includes record labels, retail outlets, exported music publishing, broadcasting, satellite television, and film and video distribution. * 1985 – Branson starts Virgin Holidays * 1987 – Branson takes Virgin Records to the United States * 1987 – The Virgin Group, along with Granada, Anglia and Pearson, founds BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) and receives a UK license to broadcast five new TV channels by satellite in the UK. 1987 – Virgin sets up 525, a post-production facility in Los Angeles, to work on high-end commercials and pop videos. * 1987 – Virgin sets up “Music Box” as an independent producer of music programs. * 1987 – Virgin buys a 45% stake in Mastertronic Group. Later Virgin Mastertronic becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Virgin Group, creating, marketing and distributing computer games software and Sega consoles in several European countries. * 1987 – Virgin buys Rushes Postproduction in London. * 1987 – Virgin launches Virgin Airship & Balloon Company. 1987 – Richard Branson launched Mates condoms in the UK to promote condoms to young adults * 1988 – Virgin re-opens the recently acquired and re-modeled Olympic Studios in Barnes, London. * 1988 – Virgin launches Virgin Classics, another Virgin international record label specializing in high-quality classical music. * 1988 – Virgin sells some of its smaller UK retail stores and puts more money into Virgin Megastores, opening new stores both in the UK and abroad. * 1988 – Virgin sets up Virgin Broadcasting. 1988 – Virgin sells its shareholding in BSB. 1990s * 1990 – Virgin Megastores arrives in Japan * 1991 – Virgin Publishing (Virgin Books) is formed * 1992 – Virgin Records is sold to Thorn EMI * 1993 – Virgin Radio hits the airwaves with Virgin 1215AM * 1994 – Launch of Virgin Vodka and Virgin Cola * 1995 – Virgin Direct Personal Financial Services opens for business * 1995 – Virgin Express a European low cost Airline is launched in Brussels after the purchase and rebranding of EBA Express * 1996 – V2 Music is created 1996 – Virgin. Net launches * 1996 – Virgin Brides launches * 1996 – Virgin Trains is launched * 1996 – Virgin Group becomes majority shareholders in London Broncos rugby league team * 1997 – Virgin Radio is acquired by Chris Evans * 1997 – Virgin Cosmetics launches * 1998 – Virgin Mobile launches Virgin’s first telecoms venture * 1999 – Virgin Active Launches in South Africa, UK and Italy * 1999 – Majority shareholders in London Broncos is sold to David Hughes 2000s 2000 – Virgin launches Australian airline Virgin Blue (now called Virgin Australia) * 2000 – Virgin sells Rushes Postproduction to Ascent Media – then Liberty Livewire * 2000 – Virgin launches Virgin Energy * 2000 – Virgin launches Virgin Cars * 2004 – Virgin launches Virgin Galactic * 2005 – Virgin Express merges with Sn Brussels Airlines to form Brussels Airlines. Virgin retains minority share. * 2005 – Virgin Active UK acquires Holmes Place * 2006 – Virgin announces Virgin Fuel, a new company to produce a clean fuel in the future * 2006 – Virgin Active Spain is Launched 2007 – Virgin Active Portugal is Launched * 2007 – Virgin launches Virgin Health Bank * 2007 – Virgin launches Virgin Media * 2007 – Virgin launches Virgin America * 2007 – Buys 20% stakes in AirAsia X * 2007 – Sells Virgin Megastore in the UK and Ireland * 2007 – Virgin Media Television Launchs Virgin 1 * 2007 – Closes Virgin Digital in the UK (Virgin now sells music downloads through Virgin Media’s website) * 2007 – Virgin Fuel US$400 million in Virgin Atlantic jet flight on biofuels and in renewable energy. 2007 – Virgin Money becomes preferred bidder for acquisition of Northern Rock (but is ultimately unsuccessful). * 2007 – Virgin Radio Italia launches in Italy in joint venture with Gruppo Finelco S. p. A. * 2008 – Virgin Australia Airlines offers competitive prices between Australia and Los Angeles. Known as V Australia due to naming rights. * 2008 – Virgin launches Virgin Healthcare * 2009 – Virgin launches Virgin Money Giving 2010s