My general attitude to life is to enjoy every minute of every day. I never do anything with a feeling of, “Oh God, I’ve got to do this today.”
Richard Branson, The Guardian newspaper, 20th September 2008
Richard Branson is a fantastic entrepreneur and businessman. He founded the Virgin group of more than 400 companies. The Virgin group grew from a small records shop he founded in 1972, to become a major multinational company including interests in transport, media, and entertainment. Richard Branson is also a flamboyant character and has taken part in a number of grueling adventure challenges, such as sailing across the Atlantic and taking part in ‘Round the World’ hot air balloon journeys.
Richard Charles Nicholas Branson was born on July 18, 1950, in Surrey, England. His father, Edward James Branson, worked as a barrister. His mother, Eve Branson, was employed as a flight attendant. Richard, who struggled with dyslexia, had a hard time with educational institutions. He nearly failed out of the all-boys Scaitcliffe School, which he attended until the age of 13. He then transferred to Stowe School, a boarding school in Stowe, Buckinghamshire, England.
Still struggling, Branson dropped out at the age of 16 to start a youth-culture magazine called Student. The publication, run by students, for students, sold $8,000 worth of advertising in its first edition, which was launched in 1966. The first run of 50,000 copies was disseminated for free, after Branson was able to attract significant advertisement from firms wishing to tap into the student market.
By 1969, Branson was living in a London community, surrounded by the British music and drug scene. It was during this time that Branson had the idea to begin a mail-order record company called Virgin to help fund his magazine efforts. The company performed modestly, but made Branson rich enough to expand his business venture, adding a record shop in Oxford Street, London. With the success of the record shop, the high school drop-out was able to build a recording studio in 1972 in Oxfordshire, England.
After quitting school, he moved back to London, where he continued the production of the youth culture magazine, The Student.
The 1960s in London, was known as the ‘swinging sixties’ and Branson admits he was living the life of a hippy, in a London commune – a large shared house, surrounded by the music and drugs of the age. However, although he may have been a hippie, Branson also had a keen business sense, and he set up a mail order record company, called Virgin to complement the student magazine. ‘Virgin’ was suggested by one of Branson’s workers – who suggested the name because they were all new at business. Branson later said he got into business by accident.
‘I became an entrepreneur by mistake. Ever since then I’ve gone into business, not to make money, but because I think I can do it better than it’s being done elsewhere. And, quite often, just out of personal frustration about the way it’s being done by other people’. (Interview with Martyn Lewis in his book, Reflections on Success (1997)
With modest profits from his magazine and mail order business, he was able to get a record shop on Oxford Street, London. Undercutting other High Street retailers, Virgin experienced good growth. Though, on one occasion, due to an unpaid tax bill, Branson’s mother Eve had to re-mortgage her house to help Branson stay afloat.
As the record business expanded, Branson created his own record label, with Nik Powell – Virgin Music in 1972. Within a year, Branson had a great stroke of luck. His first artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded the album ‘Tubular Bells’ and this proved a smash hit, staying in the charts for over four years. This high profile and earnings helped Branson to sign up some of the top bands of the era, including Culture Club, the Rolling Stones, Genesis, and controversial bands such as the Sex Pistols.
In 1984, Branson branched out into his biggest business venture – forming Virgin Atlantic Airways, and started competing in a market dominated by big national carriers, such as British Airways. At a point this rivalry became so intense, with Virgin accusing British Airways of dirty tricks in poaching customers. British Airways eventually settled out of court. However, in 1992, Branson had to sell Virgin records to EMI for £500m to help keep a struggling Virgin Atlantic afloat.
Other big business ventures of the Virgin group include Virgin Mobile in 1999 and entering into British railways with Virgin Trains in 1993. In 2007, he created Virgin Money. Less successful ventures include Virgin cola, and Virgin vodka. He also failed to win a contract to run the National Lottery – even though he offered to do it not for profit.
He said ‘My philosophy is that if I have any money I invest it in new ventures and not have it sitting around’. (Interview, Sunday Times, 16th January, 2000)
Richard Branson has sought to cultivate a different approach to running a business. He says the ethos of his businesses is to build from the bottom up – taking into account the feedback from all staff, and not just top down hierarchy.
‘As much as you need a strong personality to build a business from scratch, you also must understand the art of delegation. I have to be good at helping people run the individual businesses, and I have to be willing to step back. The company must be set up so it can continue without me.
He has also been willing to take risks, setting up unconventional business plans. In his autobiography, he also says that having fun, is an important element of his approach to life and business.
“Fun is at the core of the way I like to do business and it has been vital to everything I’ve done from the onset. More than any other element, fun is the secret of Virgin’s success. I am aware that the ideas of business as being fun and creative goes right against the grain of convention, and it’s certainly not how the they teach it at some of those business schools, where business means hard grind and lots of ‘discounted cash flows’ and net’ present values’.”
14 Inspiring Life and Business Lessons from Richard Branson
1. You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over and it’s because you fall over that you learn to save yourself from falling over.
2. Entrepreneurship is not about getting one over on the customer. It’s not about working on your own. It’s not about looking out for number one. It’s not necessarily about making a lot of money. On the contrary, it’s about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward.
3. Having savvy is far more important than formal education.
4. Circumstances and opportunities change. The only constant is change itself.
5. Befriending one’s enemy is a good rule for life and business.
6. Publicity is Absolutely Critical.
7. Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver and deliver everything your promise.
8. If you’re running an airline, restaurant, or any other company, its attention to detail that defines great delivery.
9. Success one day doesn’t give you a free lunch everyday thereafter.
10. Every risk is worth taking as long as it’s in a good cause and contributes to a good life.
11. When you’re first thinking through an idea it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Any fool can make something complex. It’s hard to make something simple.
12. Never do anything that means you can’t sleep at night.
13. Failure is not giving things a go in the first place.
14. Success for me is whether or not you have created something you can be proud of.
This business man is a great man you can learn a lot from business and life generally. No matter where you are, and who you are you can go far in life and make an impact in your word. Read this over again, research more about him and apply the principles learn.