Four leadership lessons from Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson

Four leadership lessons from Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson - 8th September 2015


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By Jamie Freed

Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson visited Sydney on Tuesday, where Virgin Australia consulting chef Luke Mangan taught him how to plate a business class dish.

"Every day I learn something new," Sir Richard said of the experience. "I never went to university. I always say life is one long university course that I've never had."

Sir Richard then took questions from apprentice chefs, who were keen for advice from the legendary entrepreneur. Here are some of the business lessons he shared:

1. Surround yourself with good people and delegate well

Sir Richard says it is important to know your strengths and your limits and not try to do too much yourself. Instead, you need to get the best people with great ideas to join your team – and then avoid second-guessing them all the time.

"Sometimes they will fall flat on their face," he says. "Sometimes they will do incredible things. Obviously I have been at it for a long time. Based on experience, sometimes I can say whether I like something or not based on many years of doing things. But surround yourself with great people.

"And delegate. I think too many people are building companies, they are not delegating. The absolute key is early on as you are building companies, try to put yourself out of business. Find one or two people [who] are better than you to do everything."

2. It's OK to fall flat on your face, as long as you get back up again

Sir Richard views failure as a learning experience. He points to the Virgin Cola product, launched in 1994, as an example. The product did well in Britain for about 18 months, but that attracted the attention of Coca-Cola, which had deep pockets with which to fight back. Suddenly, Virgin Cola disappeared from the shelves of big retailers like Tesco.

"A lot of people fall flat on their face," he says. "The key in life is to learn from that experience and pick yourself up and keep reinventing yourself until you succeed. Most successful people have. It is learning from that and not giving up when it happens. Hopefully ultimately you come out on top."

3. Make sure you have a better product than the incumbent

Sir Richard says the key lesson from the Virgin Cola debacle was to always ensure you have a product that is "much, much better" than your competitor.

"Obviously with a soft drink, there is not much you can do to differentiate it," he says. "When British Airways tried to do the same thing to Virgin Atlantic because the quality of our product was better, they couldn't do it. Or when Qantas tried to do it to Virgin Australia, they inflicted so much damage on themselves that they finally backed off. They even had to go begging to their government, having lost hundreds of millions of dollars trying to drive us out of business. The main thing was to make sure we kept the quality up."

4. Do anything you can to promote your business for free

Sir Richard says Sir Freddie Laker, who had gone bankrupt fighting British Airways, had an important bit of advice for the launch of Virgin Atlantic and its fight against a deeper-pocketed rival.

"He said you have got to use yourself to let people know about your business," Sir Richard says. "And don't spend tons of money on advertising but go out, make a fool of yourself, do whatever it takes to get your message out there. So I think for anyone who is starting out in business, if you have got the best product, you have got to let people know about your product and get out there and market it cleverly."

(The Sydney Morning Herald)