A leather jacket, white shirt, jeans, wavy shoulder length hair and a well maintained beard, if you weren’t aware of Mr Branson he definitely comes across as just a ordinary man, however we all know that the multi billionaire is far from it.
On Friday for ninety minutes, Richard captivated and gripped an audience of 2,000 in Westminster’s Central Hall, many hooking Branson beards to their noses which had been included in the pack provided by the organisers. The pack also included a copy of his book ‘The Virgin Way’.
I once gave a presentation on ‘Inspirational leaders’, holding up a cut out of Sir Richards head mounted on a wooden spatula, steering away from the traditional Powerpoint presentation. When the opportunity arose to listen to Branson, it is something that I jumped at!
The #BeMoreBranson event had a real flavour of ‘the Virgin Way’ at its core, with the world famous leader discussing how important both Virgin customers and employees are, to both himself and the brand.
‘Virgin – I wanted to create a collection of companies that do ‘fun things’ that can make a difference to people.’
Despite talking in the first person he used ‘we’ rather than ‘I’, it was clear that although he was at the helm of the multinational conglomerate, he remained humble and appreciated that he had not been able to get there alone. In an interview last year, Branson said his employees came before the customers, defying years of business theory.
On the subject of positivity, Branson advised the audience that if you think positively about those who surround you and always look for the positives in what you do, in return you are guaranteed to receive good vibes. Branson reflected this, as positivity radiated from within, impacting those in the audience. Despite being told two extremes by his childhood Headmaster: that he would either be in prison or a millionaire; it is evident that Branson hasn’t let struggles such as dyslexia and failing business like Virgin Cola hold him back, advising that he must have been born under a lucky cloud.
Branson discussed the traits in being a good leader, he stated that they should be good listeners, do not criticise people, find the value in their employees and simply, genuinely like people!
‘If you can successfully run one company well, you can run any company.’
Branson steers away from the ‘you’re fired’ approach, which can be seen in The Apprentice. Again using positivity and opting to help people find strength in their armoury, which may benefit other areas of the business. Branson does so by offering advice on ways for improvement, rather than dismissing them. Branson sees Virgin as an extended family to his own and stated that you would not fire a brother or sister, would you?
Not only is he an inspiring leader, but also a great story teller. The 1973 hit ‘Tubular Bells’ was rejected by many of the leading record producers, however Branson believes that it helped form the foundation to the brand. In regards to inspirations, he spoke of his Mother who made place-mats, amongst varying other hand made ventures, to provide an extra income. Branson enjoys being the David against the Goliath, ‘experiencing a buzz’ out of pulling the coat tails of the market leaders; speaking of the competition between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which is often referred to as the ‘dirty tricks’ campaign. A few years later when British Airways struggled to erect the London Eye, Branson pulled this stunt (see link), firmly with his ‘tongue in cheek’.
Despite Branson being the grand age of sixty-five, he still has seventeen year old girls ‘throw themselves at him’, however I think most of us would agree that ‘Virgin Dating’ would not stand to compete against the likes of Tinder and Match.com.
On what legacy he says he wishes to leave behind, Branson simply replied ‘to be remembered for making a bigger difference…’