This is the follow up to the postThoughts on Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson. Here I continue with what I’ve learned while reading this book.
When I first started reading this book, Richard Branson seemed to me like just a more successful version of just about every pampas, big-headed business jerk I’d ever met. It was easy to juxtapose his name with that of every other jackass I’ve ever seen whose idea of keeping a good name was “I’ll sue your ass of if you write anything bad about me or my company”, instead of — you know — actually being good for their word. (It should be noted that Branson was never quick to pull out the legal teams. Those jackasses I remembered tended to be quick on the trigger, like if it was some kind of hobby to sue and get sued.)
By the time I finished, I could see the amount of personal growth Branson had gone through throughout the years. Indeed, the book shows that aspect of his life rather pointedly. On top of that, by the end of the book I realized better than I ever have before how a visionary entrepreneur — that special breed of people that can make enterprise after enterprise after enterprise with seemingly nothing more than the wave of his hand — sees things, how that type of person looks at a situation and with what confidence they go forth, believing fully that they can make a change, that there’s always room for competition. In Branson’s case, he believes he can change the world. (Stuff like Virgin Galactic may just ensure that dream becomes a reality.)
Anyway, as I said, this is a follow up post so I’ll just continue with some of the lessons I learned while reading this. (As I said before, I highly recommend everyone who is interested in entrepreneurship in any way, the airline industry, ballooning, the history of modern music, or anything else Virgin has gotten into to read this bool.)
- Personal relationships are vital in business and that people should be directly accountable for their actions. Throughout his career, accountability has been huge for Branson. Without accountability, proper relationships cannot be built, and the foundation for creating something greater than yourself cannot be set. In a specific example, during the early 90’s, during the first Gulf War, a number of rumors started flying about regarding Virgin Atlantic’s financial position, namely that it was about to go bust. These rumors had been started by the head of British Airways in order to bring Virgin Atlantic down. (This was because Virgin got a ton of free publicity when they volunteered to use a 747 to deliver aid to Jordan and rescue hostages held in Iraq. This cast a great light on Virgin — who did this for no other reason than to help — while making British Airways look less than stellar, seeing as they had been asked for help repeatedly, but had never given it.) To quell some of these rumors, Branson had tried to talk to BA’s Lord King (yes, that’s his name), in order to resolve this situation. Lord King answered indignantly. That confrontation gave Branson all he needed to start to turn things around via a long-avoided lawsuit. BA was doing everything in its power — almost to the point of sabotage — to ensure that Virgin would go bust. As Branson later found out, BA had set up a special team to undermine Virgin. (This all came out during the trial.) This all ended in the awarding of a contract of operations from Heathrow to Virgin.
- Healthy competition benefits even charities sometimes. “When I returned to Britain [from Iraq], William Waldegrave told me that he had just had a call from Lord King, chairman of British Airways, who had been surprised to see the Virgin Atlantic flight to Jordan featured on [the news]. ‘We should be doing that,’ Lord King had told Waldergrave. William had pointed out to Lord King that I had just offered to help and Virgin Atlantic happened to have an aircraft available to make it possible. The next week British Airways fles osme supplies out to Jordan and brought back some more nationals. Christian Aid told us that they were amazed: over many years they had unsuccessfully appealed to British Airways to help them, but ever since the Virgin Atlantic flight to Amman, BA had been practically suffocating them with offers of help.” This is a bit like a small trick I use when I drive. Sometimes I want to go faster but am being blocked by a car on my side and one in the front. Knowing that the car on the side won’t let me pass, I speed up as if to get in front of him. When he speeds up, I slow back down and get behind him. He usually keeps going and ends up passing the guy that was blocking me from the front. I quickly step back into my lane and go at the speed I want to go, no faster.
- Nothing ventured, nothing gained. A magazine, a record store, a studio, a music label, a chain of mega-stores, an airline, an island, a cola company, a lottery, and countless of other things which didn’t make it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Don’t let people walk all over you. Virgin’s entry into Heathrow was being fought tooth and nail by British Airways. Since they effectively had a monopoly on Heathrow they called the shots, so everything — from the flight time slots to the baggage carriers — had to be fought for by Virgin. Although in theory Heathrow was open to Virgin, in practice it wasn’t.
- However tight things are, you still need to have the big picture at the forefront of your mind. Branson has made it a lifestyle to stay one step ahead of the banks: no more, and usually no less. Still, never once has he let his financial situation get in the way of his dream. To quote him:
The most vivid proof of this came during the depths of the recession in 1992. At the time, I was trying to raise money to install individual seat-back video terminals in all of our aircraft — I have always believed that Virgin should offer the best in-flight entertainment. We needed $10 million to install the equipment. Nobody at Virgin Atlantic could raise the necessary funding, and we were all in despair down at the Crawley one day and on the point of giving up when I thought I would try one last gamble….I called Boeing…[and asked] whether [they] would throw in the individual seat-back videos in economy if we bought ten new Boeing 747-400s. Amazed that anyone was thinking of buying planes during that recession, [Boeing] readily agreed. I then called…Airbus…[and they] also agreed….We discovered it was easier to get $4 billion credit to buy eighteen new aircraft than it was to get $10 million credit for the seat-back video sets. As a result, Virgin Atlantic suddenly had…the youngest and most modern fleet in the industry.
- Some of the best ideas come out of the blue, and you have to keep an open mind to see their virtue. This is how Virgin Atlantic came to existence; an American lawyer called Branson to suggest setting up an airline in 1984. The rest is history.
- “I have always lived my life by making lists — lists of people to call, list of ideas,lists of companies to set up , lists of people who can make things happen. Each day I work through these lists, and that sequence of call propels me forward.”
- “Whenever I’m on a flight or a train or in the record store, I walk around and ask the people I meet for their ideas on how to improve the service. I write them down, and when I get home, I look through all the comments, If there’s a good idea, I pick up the phone and implement it.”
- I also insist that we continually ask our staff for their suggestions, and I try my hand at their jobs.” (This helps bring about the best service and methods, suggestions which come directly from the people who work with those methods on a daily basis and best see their faults and strengths.
The following lessons come from the last chapter, which I think is probably the most important to anyone looking for tips on how to be effective as an entrepreneur.
Obviously there a ton more lessons, but if you want to get those you have to pick up a copy for yourself. (At only $10.40 on Amazon, this is one deal you can’t afford to pass up. Knowledge potentially worth billions of dollars for less than the cost of three frappuccinos at Starbucks. I never understood why someone would pass up a deal like that.)