If a new project or business opportunity doesn’t excite Richard and get his entrepreneurial and innovative juices flowing, he would far rather pass on it and move along to something that excites him.

His paramount philosophy is why risk wasting any of our limited time on this earth doing stuff that doesn’t light our fire?

Richard has spent majority of his life with a thirst of relearning about new things, businesses, people and cultures. He learned firsthand, as opposed to reading about home in books or third hand. This is his explanation and paradox relating to when he dropped out of a prestigious school at age a16.

4Ls to Virgin Way

  1. Listening
  2. Learning
  3. Laughing
  4. Leading

Part 1 Listen

Chapter 1 – Old blocks and young chips

You’re guaranteed to miss every shot you don’t take.

Chapter 2 – The Dying Art of Listening

Richard developed a lifetime habit of capturing his thoughts, observations and just about anything of interest someone said or did in his hardbacked lined notebooks. He has 100s of notebooks from 40 years of business.

A skilled listener will not only hear what is said but will also hear what has not been said.

Virgin has a corporate culture of fun and freedom of expression. Virgin does not have an employee handbook that reads like a corporate penal code. Richard does not keep an office, he prefers to be out, spending time with people and talking to them at their places.

Chapter 3 – Mirror Mirror

Richard ask the question how do we look to our customers? So, he has the power to see Virgin in the same way the public sees them. Richard solicits advice from his big family (his actual family and colleagues).

He owns and accept responsibility for their mistakes, then act to quickly fix them and move on.

He spends time a as customer of his own company from time to time. He tries calling his own company and see how long it takes to talk to a real person. He has a complaint ready they can easily solve and see how they do.

He’s often accused of nitpicking. He’s always looking for ways the company can improve by being one of the biggest constructive critics of Virgin companies.

His favorite question to ask candidates for leadership roles is “If you get the job, what are the first things you’re going to change around here, and why?”

Chapter 4 – KISS and Tell

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers. They can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.

Say what you mean and mean what you say, in as few words as possible.

I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter (French Mathematician, Blaise Pascal)

Try to condense your point to the length of a tweet. Any email longer than a few hundred words is not going to keep anyone’s attention.

Richard always keeps a printed copy of his presentation in case teleprompters or confidence monitors go wrong. (so, he doesn’t have to be like Michael Bay)

Winston Churchill claimed he spent 60 minutes of preparation for every 1 minute of a public speech.

It’s difficult to speak and keep people’s attention for longer than 25 minutes.

Richard is strong enough to admit he doesn’t have all the answers. “I’m not sure what do you think?”

Richard says, “Thank you” and “Please” more. He eliminates “That said” because it undermines everything he has said before.

A handwritten note really stands out currently.

When public speaking, Richard imagines himself giving a talk at dinner table. He also practices a lot.

HE also prefers Q&A formats over presentation formats.

Chapter 5 – Burn down the Mission

Try to reduce your mission statement to 10 words. Keeping it short, unique, real goes a long way.

If your mission statement is going to be terrible and uninspiring, it’s probably better not to have one.

Thou Shalt

Thou Shalt Not

Part 2 Learn

Chapter 6 – Defining Leadership

Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others. – Lau Tzu

The title doesn’t necessarily say about the level of respect you deserve. Titles have no true bearing on anyone’s ability to lead.

Good leadership is taking the venture forward and finding viable new avenues where the business can evolve and prosper.

Poor leadership tends to be static, much more about protecting status quo and resting on laurels.

To stand still today is to go backward.

Poor leadership usually displays:

  • Aversion to facing confrontation
  • Ignorance hoping the issues will somehow solve themselves

Delegation is handing over responsibility and authority

Relegation is pushing a problem away, without including the power to do anything about (it except, perhaps, to shoulder the blame). (see Kodak)

Entrepreneurs need to know when to step out of a business and when to step back in. (e.g. Steve Jobs, Larry Paige, Charles Schulz)

When someone says “It’s not possible. It’s never been done before, or it’s been tried before, and no one has ever succeeded” to Richard, he replies “Great. Well, why don’t we look at how we can do it differently and be the first one to make it work.”

Chapter 7 – What Chance Luck?

Fortune favors the bold. The harder you practice, the luckier you get.

Work on improving you luck: never be afraid to talk to strangers.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Chapter 8 – Typically Atypical

Catering to the average means everyone on either end is being neglected. Hats that are one size fits all don’t work for large or small heads.

Make sure you’re seizing opportunities, big or small, to do things better.

Virgin Atlantic found it was cheaper to give away inflight headsets instead of re-using them after the flights.

Richard has always refused to rank anything as a perfect 10. There’s always room for improvement.

Chapter 9 – Big Dogfights

You always know it’s working when your opponent’s cry foul.

Thinking differently doesn’t necessarily cost anymore; it just takes a commitment to not doing more of the same.

Focus on serving customers more than shareholders, learn to look after my staff first and the rest will follow.

Richard has always seen business as a group of people trying to improve other people’s lives.

Chapter 10 – Innovation is Nothing New

Sometimes innovation is making the old new again (give customers something well outside the realm of their realistic expectations)

Chapter 11 – Hiring’em and Keeping’em

Become immersed in the hiring process. Do not delegate this especially for leadership roles.

Hire people with whom you feel 100% comfortable.

At Google, Sergey and Larry have the final say on all leadership hires.

You’ve got to delegate your duties if you want your business to survive and grow.

Richard’s tips for identifying great people and building your team:

  • Character is hired than intellect.
  • Funny. Caring. Versatile. Curious.
  • Break the ice by asking them to tell you a joke.
  • Experiment role-playing.
  • What is it that they’re seeking?
  • Promote from within (if qualified)
  • CV is just a paper. Ask what they did not include on their CV.
  • A healthy mix of experience and novel thinking.
  • It’s always worth being patient (a hasty hiring is seldom a good one, wrong person can be very damaging)

Google Project Oxygen contains a list of 10 behaviors of Google’s best managers.

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers team and does not micromanage
  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and wellbeing
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator – listens and shares information
  6. Supports career development discusses performance
  7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team?
  8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team
  9. Collaborates across the organization
  10. Is a strong decision maker?

3 Reasons people leave jobs

  1. Didn’t feel enough of a connection to company’s mission.
  2. Didn’t get along with coworkers.
  3. Did think they had a terrible boss.

Don’t confuse movement with progress. Employees who consistently work 12-hour days are usually mimicking the boss.

A boss who works 12-hour days is usually a sign that he is not managing his time well (or delegating enough).

Remote workforce is on the rise. Yahoo! decided not to go with the norm. Marissa Mayer, in her defense, said “While people are more productive when they’re alone, they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”

It’s not the hours you put in that matters; it’s what you put into the hours.

Make the policy no policy.

Netflix eliminated tracking of vacation policy, saying “If we can’t accurate track employee working hours on the job why should we do differently outside the job. Just as we don’t have 9-5 policy, we don’t need vacation policy.

Virgin decided to adopt this policy.

Train your people well enough that they can leave; treat them well enough that they don’t want to.

Part 3 Love

Chapter 12 – Culturing the Culture

Culture east strategy for breakfast

– Peter Drucker

Hire for attitude; train for skill

– Southwest Airlines

We tell our people don’t worry about profit; think about customer service. Profit is a byproduct of good customer service, it is not an end in itself.

– Herb Kelleher (Founder, Southwest Airlines)

Listen. Use of we are a sign of healthy culture, us or they or them is a sign of unhealthy culture.

Chapter 13 – The Fruits of Passion

People who are least passionate are the same “I’m so glad it’s Friday” people.

You’re either 100% behind the quest for excellence 100% of the time, or you aren’t really a player.

Don’t try to train a good attitude; hire one.

Passion knows passion. Passionate leaders can recognize raw passion in others when they see it.

Chapter 14 – The Party Line

Everything worthwhile in life usually involves some degree of risk.

Virgin group throws big company parties. They had as many as 60,000 people at the last mega-party held before they got too big.

Happiness fuels success; not success fueling happiness.

Part 4 Lead

Chapter 15 – Leaders of the Future

Richard started the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship.

Rent a mentor. Steve Job had Mike Markkula (former Intel Manager, early investor of Apple) Larry Paige and Sergey had Eric Schmidt.

If you see someone you admire, be bold go for it. A good mentor can be an amazingly telling mentor.

Chapter 16 – Being There

Lead from the front lines. Engage with the competition firsthand.

Chapter 17 – Collaboration is Key

Few, if any, brands ever brought an idea to life without a lot of help.

Brands are collaborating everywhere. Nike – Apple.

First collaborate within your own company; eliminate silos, involve anyone who can give valuable input from the start.

Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and random discussions. – Steve Jobs

Chapter 18 – Decisions, Decisions

3 types of decision makers

  1. “Why decide today if I can decide tomorrow?” – The serial procrastinator
  2. “Screw it. We’ll do it today!” – The instinct-based decision-maker
  3. “Let’s think some more about it.” – The orchestrated procrastinator

Making smart, informed decisions is why leaders get paid the big bucks.

Some rules Richard uses in decision-making:

  • Do not allow your first reaction to influence your ability to objectively weigh pros and cons
  • Just because no significant pros are present doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Work hard to uncover hidden cons.
  • Avoid making decisions in isolation.
  • DO everything you can to protect the downside.
  • Use orchestrated procrastination when you can.

Chapter 19 – Good Business

Walmart saved millions annually in replacing standard light bulbs with CFL bulbs.

Moral of the story:

  • Law of large numbers (one small action multiplies many times can have an astounding impact)
  • It takes lots of little things to make big things.
  • Companies that commit to doing good for the planet almost always find it to be good for business.

Epilogue

Just start it. You’re guaranteed to miss every single shot you don’t take.

You’ll learn so many more lessons by just doing than you ever will by mulling it repeatedly.

Trust the process. Trust your instincts and trust your team.

Don’t start second-guessing yourself or worrying about a few mistakes along the way. You’ll only learn from them. Just be sure, you don’t make the same one over and over.

Richard’s 10 Rules of Success

  1. Follow your dreams and just do it. People who have the courage to spend their time working on things they love are usually the ones enjoying life the most.
  2. Make a positive difference and do some good. If you aren’t making a positive difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in businesses.
  3. Believe in you rides and be the best.
  4. Have fun and look after your team.
  5. Don’t give up.
  6. Listen. Take lots of notes. Keep setting new challenges.
  7. Delegate, and spend more time with your family.
  8. Turn off that laptop and iPhone and get out there!
  9. Communicate, collaborate and communicate some more.
  10. Do what you love and have a couch in the kitchen.

Kyaw Wai Yan Tun

Hi, I'm Wai Yan. I love designing visuals and writing insightful articles online. I see it as my way of making the world a more beautiful and insightful place.