How Having Fun, Being Passionate & Taking On The “Big Guys” Has Made Richard Branson A Successful Entrepreneur
Richard Branson is one of the most well-known and successful entrepreneurs of our time. He has built and launched billion dollar companies in eight industries and his net worth stands at $5 Billion according to Forbes Magazine.
Richard’s career in business started at a young age. He dropped out of school at 16 to found a magazine called Student, and later leveraged this into a mail order business for records. By 1971, when he was just 21, he had his first high street store for Virgin Records in Oxford Street, London.
Not content with shaking up just one industry Richard Branson has since gone on to launch companies in transportation (Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Trains), telecommunications (Virgin Mobile), finance (Virgin Money) and Space (Virgin Galactic).
Such an immense level of success does not happen through just luck alone. Throughout Richards career he has showcases a number of leadership skills and values that distinguish him from his peers.
So what makes Richard Branson a successful Entrepreneur?
Richard Branson is always on to something. Whether he is up in the air kite surfing across English channel, or causing a buzz at a product launch dressed in Zulu outfits, the man does a lot not only to promote his company, but also to inspire his employees. He is also a philanthropist and signed the Giving Pledge, committing himself to giving at least half of his wealth to charitable causes.
“No two successful entrepreneurs are the same. Rather, their different ways of thinking and individuality makes the difference.”
It is this “difference” that is key to understanding his success as a leader. Richard Branson is not your typical CEO and what makes his leadership style so effective is as much his personality as it is his approach to business.
He is extremely passionate about everything he does
In his self-authored book “The Virgin Way: Everything I know About Leadership”, one of his 10 rules for success is to follow your passions regardless of the criticism you may face for it, but protect yourself from the downside.
This leadership style is reflected in his passion for everything he does. Regardless of what established industries perception of him is or was, if he was passionate about the idea this wouldn’t stop him from going out there and trying to make a difference.
Two notable examples of his occurred early in Richard’s life when he built the mail order business of Virgin Records. He went up against established players and undercut their prices by removing the cost of holding large inventory and managing stores.
Later Richard would take on the titan of the airline industry at the time and fight an ongoing battle with British Airways for a number of years. During each of these periods there were times were it would have been easier to call it quits, but Richard’s passion for his business and the change he was making to the industry was evident in his approach and commitment to continuing to do what he set out to achieve.
He successfully balances being a businessman with having fun
If there is one thing we know about Richard Branson, we know he loves to have a good time!
He has attempted breaking numerous world records, including his attempt at circumnavigating the globe on a hot air balloon. He is an adventurous man who loves to have some fun without neglecting his business.
In his leadership book, he writes that “Fun is one of the most important underrated ingredients in any successful venture.”
According to Branson, if you are not having enough fun in your workplace and/or business, then you may as well “try something else.” What’s more, he is known for his preference of casual clothing even in the workplace.
It would be easy to see his casual nature and love of adventure as being separate from his success as a businessman and a leader. But in truth they go hand in hand. It is this sense of adventure that has allowed him to go after large and incumbent players across numerous industries. It has also enamored people to the Virgin brand, both as employees and consumers for his diverse range of companies.
He isn’t afraid of taking on the “big guys”
Most of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs at one point in their life had to take a chance or look to compete with a major player in their chosen industry and Richard Branson is no different.
In fact, taking on the big guys has almost become a default requirement for everything Richard does. In the early days his most public battles were with British Airways, at the time and resulted in Richard Branson suing British Airways for Libel.
Clearly ending up in court is never the desired outcome, by Richard had a belief in fighting for what he believed is right and in business this often means going up against the “big guys”. When faced with this situation it is often your passion that carries you through. As he has previously written:
“A passionate belief in your business and personal objectives can make all the difference between success and failure.”
He is open to failure
Richard Branson does not fear taking calculated risks; he even admits this in his blog. Moreover, not all of his ideas and ventures work all the time. Failure is part of learning and while it is important to have a “never give up” mentality, sometimes you need to walk away.
When he tried to take on Coca-Cola with his Virgin Cola and it did not work, he was forced to close. The same thing happened with Virgin Vodka, Virgin Cars, Virgin Cosmetics and a host of other ideas.
In fact, you could argue that this openness to failure has been a key to Richards longevity and success as an entrepreneur. If he had stopped with just the record business, Virgin, would probably not exist today. It would have most likely been replaced by the likes of iTune, Spotify and Apple Music.
By constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel and take on new industries Richard Branson has created a diversified portfolio of companies that has allowed him to stand the test of time and weather numerous competitive challenges and economic cycles.
He is a “visible leader” who is the face of his company
Richard Branson is Virgin and Virgin is Richard Branson.
As a visible leader within the organisation Richard Branson is able to inspire his employees and brings an air of confidence to an otherwise uncertain situation. As the face of the brand he remains active in a number of his companies and makes a point to visit and speak with staff on a regular basis. He also has a personal blog where he writes frequently to offer advice and insights for upcoming entrepreneurs.
By being a visible leader what Richard Branson is really saying, is that despite all of his success he knows it is the people on the ground who count and he isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty and working when and whenever needed. Ultimately he removes the divide that so often exists between management and employees.
People who work for him respect him and he is often meeting people at all levels of the company
Another crucial leadership quality that Richard has is his ability to effectively communicate with all of his employees and interact with everybody in his company. In fact, the name Virgin was proposed by one of his early employees when they were just starting out.
By instilling this principle of being open to constructive communication from the top down it becomes a trait that is adopted by all managers within the Virgin group. This ultimately helps foster creativity and new ideas in the organisation and cements a sense of “ownership” that people have over their role.
He does things to stand out
Richard Branson has often had to “fight up” and take on competitors with more money and resources, especially in the early days of his career. As a result he recognized that one way to generate free publicity is to stand out. As a result Richard Branson and Virgin have become known for the publicity and marketing stunts that have performed.
For example to promote his South African flight route, he dressed as a Zulu warrior. To launch Virgin Cola he drove a tank across Fifth Avenue. While some of these stunts may appear “silly” to more traditional or conservative business leaders they amount to millions and millions of dollars in free advertising for the Virgin brand.
Standing out is also in keeping with who Richard Branson is and the brand he has created around Virgin, which highlights that this positioning is genuinely authentic and not merely done for the sake of it.
Also published on Medium.