Business magnate Sir Richard Branson is well-known as a serial entrepreneur, investor, adventurer and philanthropist. In “Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School”, Branson shares his experiences, advice and insights about business and leadership, how he successfully built the Virgin Group (with hundreds of businesses), empowers people and lives life to the fullest. These are useful insights for anyone interested to start your own business, or to improve your business and career success.
The book is a compilation of 76 short, conversational chapters, addressing the most common questions that Branson receives about starting and growing a business, managing people, and leading a fulfilling life. In this article, we’ll share selected highlights from the book.
In our full 15-page summary, we’ve distilled and organized the key points from the book into these broad segments: Business Success Principles, Important Business Philosophies, People-management, Management & Communications, Customer Services & Branding, Failure, Innovation & Learning . Here are some highlights:
The Virgin Group has probably created the most number of billion-dollar companies in the most number of industries. Branson attributes his business success to 5 key secrets, which are expanded upon in various parts of our full summary:
• Do what you enjoy. Building a business takes significant time and effort, and you should do something you enjoy. Focus on making a positive difference with your business, and success will follow.
• Dare to be different. The most successful businesses (e.g. Facebook, Google, Apple) establish themselves by being radically different, and innovating continually. Branson admires the late Steve Jobs for his commitment to think differently, and his tenacity to pursue his vision despite criticism and being ousted from his own company. To make a breakthrough, you must dare to do things differently.
• Instill a sense of pride. Your business is only as strong as your people; when people are proud to be a part of your company, they’re more committed to and passionate in their work.
• Be a good listener. To lead well, you need to listen and learn from others. Give praises generously, and hold back your criticisms and temper. Never openly criticize others, as it only reflects badly on you.
• See and be seen. You can’t lead from behind a desk. Get out there, listen to people, take note of what works and doesn’t, and take action. If you run a big business, appoint leaders who adopt this philosophy.
In the book, Branson also shares some of his core business philosophies which have shaped how the Virgin Group functions, e.g. Nice guys can win too (there’s no need to be cut-throat and ruthless in business), Fun as a business ingredient (how Virgin goes beyond the 4Ps to build an edge using FUN), and Small is beautiful (which is why Virgin companies are almost never the biggest in their industries). Get a detailed overview of these ideas in our full Like a Virgin summary.
Businesses are made up of people; one of the key challenges is to find, energize, manage and retain great people, and give them the environment to thrive and contribute fully.
• Your people = your Key Assets. Most companies place shareholders first, customers second and employees last; Virgin prioritises them in the reverse order. A customer’s impression of your company is often formed through a single experience with one of your employees. Happy, motivated and well-trained staff are more likely to deliver happy customers, positive word-of-mouth, sales and profits for the shareholders.
• Building a creative workplace starts at the top, with the CEO and top management being approachable, showing an intrapreneurial spirit, learning and trying new ideas. You’ll need great leaders who listen to their people, and understand their teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Branson personally carries a notebook where he constantly jots down feedback and ideas for follow up.
• Intrapreneurship. An entrepreneur is someone who initiates and organizes new commercial enterprises, while an intrapreneur is an employee who has the freedom and support to create new products, services and systems, without following the company’s normal rules. Entrepreneurs get a company started, while intrapreneurs drive a company forward with ongoing innovations.
– The key to successful intrapreneurship is to unleash people to pursue their visions, so they feel like they’re building their own company, rather than simply working for you. Think of your staff as “belongers” and your CEO as the “Chief Enabling Officer”.
– Virgin companies are decentralized, and staff are encouraged to run the businesses as if they’re the owners. Many of Virgin’s businesses—e.g. Virgin Australia airline and Virgin Active health club—come from pitches from Virgin staff or external teams. Where the idea is sound and the management team is promising, Virgin puts its resources behind the ideas. Virgin also invites employees from Virgin businesses around the world to apply for projects, which brings people together, create bonds and deliver new solutions.
In our complete summary, we also cover Branson’s tips and ideas on Management & Communications (e.g. what it means to be a leader vs a boss, balancing digital comms with face-to-face interactions), Customer Service & Branding (e.g. what it means to build a brand and brand awareness, how customer service can be a competitive advantage), and Innovation & Learning (e.g. how the Virgin Group evaluates whether to take up a business opportunity, Branson’s views on risks and failures). Read more from the book here.
Branson sees entrepreneurship as a force for change, and believes businesses can shape the world for the better. That’s why Virgin will only enter businesses where they can shake up the industry and add tremendous value to customers. Many of our planet’s problems can also be creatively solved by businesses, such as renewable energy, clean water, and sustainable food sources.
In the book, Branson shares about Virgin’s airline, music and finance businesses, as well as their forays into deep-sea exploration, space-travel, etc. He also shares his views on topics like how to win the war on drugs, kick-start the economy etc. Do get a detailed overview from our full book summary.
In the meantime, let’s zoom in on a couple of ideas and tips about launching your business.
Branson recommends that you start small and allow your business to grow organically.
• If you’re new to business, start with a simple idea that can be brought to life by an individual. Test our your business acumen and skills over the weekends or evenings, but keep your job until you’re sure your business can work.
• The early stages of business growth will forge the company’s culture naturally. For Virgin, the founders’ desire for fun and inclusion shaped some of the core elements of the business, purely by accident rather than design. Grow at a pace you’re comfortable with, and allow your people to evolve with you.
• Branson shares 4 important tips to remember for your business launch: Stay on target, get realistic costs estimates, hire right, and step down when it’s time. [We explain these in more detail in our full summary].
If you’re looking to raise funds for your business, Branson suggests that you consider borrowing from family/ friends, and/or applying for bank loads (based on your business idea or with your assets as collateral)–these give you more flexibility to grow the business.
However, if you’ve decided to seek external investors, Branson believes the best investors are those who’ll take a minority stake (in return for capital and support), and give you the time and space to build a great business. Here are several tips on how to prepare for your pitch:
• Start by putting yourself in the investors’ shoes: find out if they’ve made similar investments before, how much they know about your industry, and tailor your presentation accordingly.
• Use the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid): Present a clear, succinct plan that the investors can understand and share with others. Identify the top 3 points that you want them to remember: What makes your product/service unique? How will it improve your customers’ lives? Why would people pay for it?
• Prepare in detail. Check your statistics, claims, competitors’ information and know them by heart. Be ready to defend your arguments, claims and assumptions. Rehearse, get people to ask tough questions, and refine your presentation.
• During the presentation, ask questions, listen carefully and take notes, paying careful attention to the audience’s reactions. Even if your proposal is rejected, ask for feedback, so you can learn and improve for your next pitch. Do check out our full summary on the 5 points to incorporate into your presentation.
Do read the book or our complete summary for more tips/insights on starting and growing your business. In this segment of our full summary, we share Branson’s tips and ideas on success, time-management and work-life balance. Read more from the book here.
OTHER DETAILS IN THE BOOK TO LOOK OUT FOR
The chapters in the book are like short blog articles, addressing various topics. In our Like a Virgin summary bundle, we’ve distilled and organized the tips into the 3 main segments above. Do get a copy of the book Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School for the full mojo.
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