I was lucky enough to work with Richard Branson at the Virgin Management Offices and have been reflecting on what I learnt from my time from the great man.
1. Look after your people
Richard has often said that business is all about people and no one lives this more than him. He really looked after his staff – cool offices in a swanky part of London, a free canteen, a games room with a pool table and games consoles and a rewards club that offered great deals to staff.
Lesson: Even if you don’t have staff, look after your customers and suppliers by going that extra mile for your customers and being a great customer for your suppliers through detailed service agreement. When was the last time you did something unexpectedly fantastic for your customers? Perhaps send a birthday cake on their birthday – an inexpensive gesture that will no doubt win you a whole heap of goodwill.
2. Be approachable and display a sense of humour
Richard often popped down to the games room to hang out with the staff. I remember him sharing a story about how a small boy had run up to him in the street and said “you look just like Richard Branson” to which Richard replied “I am Richard Branson”. The small boy retorted “you can’t be Richard Branson because your beard isn’t real”.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid of showing your personality and telling your story. Potential customers and clients are drawn to your personality and story and like to feel that they can reach out to you rather than there being a cold corporate wall between you.
3. Show your people that you value them
Richard often invited the team round to his lavish mansion in Holland Park. It was full of amazingly interesting photographs of Richard with famous people from around the world. There can be no greater way of saying “I value you” than inviting your people round to the inner sanctuary of your home.
Lesson: So you may not have a mansion in Holland Park to invite your team to, but make sure that you regularly take your team out and show your appreciation. Same for clients and suppliers.
4. Trust your team
Richard’s style of management was hands off. Once he was confident that he had the right people in place, he just let them get on with it and sang their praises and dished out the rewards. No greater motivation. This allowed his team to thrive and freed Richard up to focus on what he does best – being the spokesman for the Virgin brand.
Lesson: Are you a micro-manager? You will struggle to grow your business if you are. Do the best you can to find the right people and then trust them to do a good job – it may not be perfect or as you would have done it but good is in most cases good enough.
5. Live your brand
My most memorable night EVER was going out for dinner with Richard and two others to a tiny restaurant in Chelsea called Ziani’s. We had great fun, heard some fabulous stories from Richard and got very tipsy on the limoncello… By the end of the night, the entire restaurant had drawn up a chair around our table and Richard was regaling them with stories about how he had built Virgin and his challenges along the way. He could have been annoyed that people were disturbing him on a private night out but instead he revelled in it and if the people in that restaurant hadn’t loved the Virgin brand at the start of the night, I am sure that they did by the end.
Lesson: Do you live your brand when you are “off-duty”?
6. Have fun!
After we had finished at the restaurant, we decided to go clubbing to Po Na Na’s on the Kings Road. The one scene I wish I had a photo of, was me walking down the King’s Road with the Managing Partner of the world’s largest law firm on one side of me and Richard on the other! In the club, Richard bumped into some of his daughter’s friends and was dancing with them and others until we left him there in the very small hours of the morning. I later heard that we were in trouble with the Virgin Board for leading Richard astray as he turned up late for a board meeting the next morning… Richard certainly knew how to let his hair down.
Lesson: don’t get too caught up in the serious stuff! Have fun in your business and if it isn’t fun at the moment, make a conscious effort to introduce more fun elements such as celebration events (2 years trading is surely cause for celebration…), fun competitions for your customers or holding a fun workshop for your clients. One person who I think does this really well is Lucy Whittington of Being a Business Celebrity – she has her events in gorgeous venues on the coast and shares pictures of people having a really fun time sipping champagne and looking out to sea. As a result – I want to attend her events much more than the usual grey, dull, corporate events held in a faceless conference centre.