Exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson

Brand building, talent strategies, and innovation – the mastermind of the Virgin empire reveals his business insights in an exclusive chat.

Exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson

From finding the right talent to unlocking potential, business magnate Sir Richard Branson shares his business insights to Human Resources Director.

HRD: Both Virgin and Sir Richard Branson are names that are known the world over. How important is a strategic approach to branding – personal and/or corporate? What are the must-do’s when building a brand?

RB: Brands ultimately belong to the consumer. While a business can influence its brand by what it does and how it behaves, it is what the customer thinks at the end of the day that is the only important thing. With this in mind, I think that it is important to try and identify early on what attitude you would like your brand to convey, and then go about building it!

Brands need to be constantly nurtured, to be kept fresh and be seen. When I was thinking about setting up my own airline, the late Freddie Laker said to me: “You’ll never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways”. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive”. I’ve been following his advice ever since and used myself to get the Virgin brand in the headlines and become more visible.

HRD: How do you find the best talent for your businesses – and how do you keep them interested and engaged?

RB: We don’t really have a general recruiting process at Virgin – it depends on the type of business and the position we are looking to fill. However, as a rule we tend to pick out employees who are inquisitive about the bigger picture, and have a ‘can do’ attitude, are positive and enthusiastic and most importantly, have a strong sense of fun! I’ve found that choosing enthusiastic, talented and positive people has helped to shape a positive character for our businesses.

HRD: You’re famous for your ‘Screw it, let’s do it’ approach, which has led to missteps as well as successes. How do you pick yourself up from mistakes?

RB: Whenever I experience any kind of setbacks, I always pick myself up and try again. I prepare myself to have another stab at things with the knowledge I have gained from the previous failure. My parents always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. I have fun heading the Virgin group of businesses, so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.

HRD: Innovation is clearly something that is central to the Virgin ethos. How do you unlock this, both personally and in your business teams? Can you create a culture of innovation and if so, how?

RB: I believe our culture of innovation is a result of our ability to adapt to changes quickly. We run our companies small, there is very little red tape and certainly no bureaucracy – we make decisions quickly and implement them – before our competitors in the market have held their fifth meeting on the same issue.

Additionally, Virgin has many, many entrepreneurs within the organisation. In business, the picture is constantly moving and changing so I try to employ people who enjoy thinking outside the box and are constantly creative and inspiring. Our people don’t just think about the numbers but think about how a deal will enhance the whole brand.

HRD: What’s the difference between a business that chugs along at a happy medium and one that develops into a world-leading, global empire?

Sir Richard Branson: Big or small, I believe that all successful and innovative companies need to have an excellent product or service; they need strong management to execute the plan and a good brand to give it the edge over competitors. Often entrepreneurs can create a good product and a brand but lack the management to help expand and create a truly great company – people are the core differentiator between a business that just chugs along and one that grows into an empire.

An entrepreneur needs to build up a very strong and capable management team and delegate out the responsibility to run the existing companies to them, so that he or she can focus on new ideas and finding the next business to start up. Just remember that it is impossible to run a business without taking risks. Virgin would not be the company it is today if we had not taken risks. I couldn’t tell you which was the riskiest – there has been quite a few!

For the full interview see this month’s HRD magazine.


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