Have you wanted to pick the brain of a successful, global entrepreneur currently nailing the work / life balance? Big Think asked Richard Branson three big questions about good leadership, humility and guidance. His answers may just surprise you.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS?
I think that the most important thing about running a company is to always remember what a company is: A company is simply, a group of people. And as a leader of people you have to be a great listener, a great motivator, and you have to be very good at looking for the best in people. People are no different to flowers: If you water flowers they flourish, and if you praise people they flourish. And that’s a critical attribute of a leader.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT PART ABOUT RUNNING VIRGIN?
There is a very thin dividing line between success and failure. Most people who set up a business without financial backing, will fail at some point in their lives. I’ve only just managed to stay the right side of the dividing line. We had a record company, I was fed up of flying on other people’s airlines, I felt that the experience of flying on other people’s airlines was an unpleasant one, so I decided to set up an airline. Our bank went into a complete panic attack. When I came back from taking the inaugural flight, Virgin Atlantic’s first flight from London to New York, I found my bank manager sitting on my doorstep. He was there to inform me that they were going to close Virgin down on Monday, and this was Friday.
I had, effectively, two days to pay off the money they had loaned us. I remember pushing the bank manager out of my house, telling him he wasn’t welcome, which is a dangerous thing to do to your bank manager, and then spending the weekend ringing around the world to all the distributors of our music asking if they could give us a temporary loan to get us through the following week. By the end of the week, we’d changed banks and had managed to find a bank that was willing to lend us 30 times the overdraft facility that our previous bank had lent us. We managed to survive.
I think the moral of that story is to not think of your bank as somebody that you’re beholden to, sometimes you need to be willing to step up and move your banks in the same way you should step up and move from your doctor on occasion. I learned from that lesson.
CAN VIRGIN CONTINUE TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITHOUT YOU?
Virgin does work very well without me. I used myself to build the brand, to build the three or four hundred companies around the world, but I also learned the art of delegation. I have a fantastic team of people who run the Virgin companies. I give them the freedom to run the companies as though they are their own companies, and I give them the freedom to make mistakes. The Virgin brand is now maybe one of the top twenty brands in the world; it’s well respected. When my balloon bursts, Virgin will continue to flourish. Maybe I had the icing on the cake on occasions, and maybe I had to spend a bit more money on marketing, but fortunately, Virgin is in a state where it can live on healthily without me.
Watch the short interview by Big Think below.