Virgin territory: Sir Richard under the spotlight

by NZ Lawyer01 Oct 2014
It’s hard to mention Virgin without thinking of the man so deeply entwined with its brand: Sir Richard Branson. In this exclusive interview, the Virgin mastermind reveals some of the secrets to his success.

You’re famous for your ‘screw it, let’s do it’ approach, which has led to missteps as well as successes. How do you pick yourself up from mistakes – both personally and financially?
RB: Whenever I experience any kind of setbacks, I always pick myself up and try again. I prepare myself to have another stab at things with the knowledge I have gained from the previous failure. My parents always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. I have fun heading the Virgin group of businesses, so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.
Another aspect of business is getting the right people around you. How do you find the best talent for your businesses – and how do you keep them interested and engaged? 
RB: We don’t really have a general recruiting process at Virgin – it depends on the type of business and the position we are looking to fill. However as a rule we tend to pick out employees who are inquisitive about the bigger picture, and have a ‘can do’ attitude, are positive and enthusiastic and most importantly, have a strong sense of fun! I have found that choosing enthusiastic, talented and positive people has helped to shape a positive character for our businesses.
Virgin and Sir Richard Branson are known the world over. How important is a strategic approach to branding? What are the must-do’s when building (any) brand?
RB: Brands ultimately belong to the consumer. While a business can influence its brand by what it does and how it behaves, it is what the customer thinks at the end of the day that is the only important thing. With this in mind, I think that it is important to try and identify early on what attitude you would like your brand to convey, and then go about building it!
Brands need to be constantly nurtured, to be kept fresh and be seen. When I was thinking about setting up my own airline, the late Freddie Laker said to me: “You’ll never have the advertising power to outsell British Airways. You are going to have to get out there and use yourself. Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive”. I’ve been following his advice ever since and used myself to get the Virgin brand in the headlines and become more visible.
It’s all too easy for management to get stuck dealing with the daily workings of a business. How important is it to get out of the office and do other things? 
RB: I do try to keep fit – anytime I’m near a Virgin Active club I make sure I get in there and work out. I love tennis and kite-surfing and pretty much do some sort of exercise every day – without making it too rigid, as that just doesn’t work for me. I enjoy being outside and being active – keeping fit as a result is almost a by-product of doing something I enjoy!  I have always believed that I needed to find good people to run my businesses and to delegate day-to-day management to others. I did this from a very early age and importantly that has allowed me to go and set up new ventures, sometimes in a new sector or country.
This article appeared in the 1.2 magazine edition of NZ Lawyer's sister publication Australasian Lawyer. Subscribe for more articles and detailed legal features.