Leadership Lessons from Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson spoke candidly this morning at NRF’s Retail’s BIG Show in New York, sharing his leadership lessons throughout his journey with one of the world’s most iconic brands, Virgin Group.

He’s one is of world’s most social CEOs and leaders, and notably the most followed person on LinkedIn, who’s gone on to grow successful businesses in multiple industry sectors around the globe.

Sir Richard Branson is an international entrepreneur, adventurer, icon, and the founder of Virgin Group, and has successfully built an empire synonymous with creative disruption.

Beginning with a then small mail order company that morphed into the independent label Virgin Records, Branson explored possibilities that others wouldn’t, successfully taking on well-established, and much better funded industry stalwarts like EMI and British Airways. Sir Richard Branson is a post child when it comes to entrepreneurship, leadership and disruption in the business and digital tech world.

Today’s fireside chat with the billionaire at NRF’s Retail’s BIG Show in New York, shed light on some key fundamentals on what it takes to be a great leader in the retail world. Here’s some of the wisdom that Branson imparted on leadership.

Importance of delegation – depending on business size

Richard says he’s learnt at a very young age about the importance of delegation and hiring heads in an organisation that are essentially better than yours. “I think too many people are building businesses feeling that they have to do everything themselves. Because I’m a serial entrepreneur, I very quickly had to find people better than myself to run the companies. And I’m also dyslexic, so that bizarrely has helped me, because I’ve had to find other people to add up the numbers and not try to do everything myself.”

But that’s not a stock standard rule. Branson says that decisions and delegation is dependent on the size of a business and that for smaller businesses it’s best that the owner takes a hands on approach with the business. “I think small restaurants, when the owner is in that restaurant, are often better than restaurant chains, where the owner is not there.”

Praise you staff

Branson advises that a key to his leadership, particularly of a vast number of staff in his conglomerate of companies, is allowing people to make mistakes and not jumping down peoples’ throats. “I’m a great believer that as a leader, you should be praising as much as possible, not criticising, and looking for the best in people, and I think we have very loyal staff at Virgin.”

Have fun

Having fun is also a major factor when it comes to good leadership, according to Branson, and it’s a vital element to fostering the good working culture in his growing number of successful companies. “ We have a lot of fun. Because we have such a diverse group of companies, if somebody gets bored working in Virgin Atlantic as a pilot, maybe they’d like to be an astronaut in our spaceship company. Moving people within the corporation’s group of companies is what has helped keep good staff at Virgin.”

Be a good listener and write things down

In his experience, Branson says that being a great leader is something that he has learnt over time, and part of that is having good listening skills. “Being a good leader is also about being a very good listener – and most importantly writing key things down.” Much of Branson’s day-to-day is spent listening to people and absorbing information, and the key to retaining the important stuff is writing things down in a notepad, which he says is something he keeps on him at all times.

“If I‘m on Virgin plane – I’ll write my own observations down. When the plane lands, maybe we’ll stay at the same hotel that the staff stay in. We’ll go for a drink at the bar. I definitely need to write things down if I’ve had a drink at the bar.” (he laughs).

The little things count

Once he has a list down, Branson starts actioning his scribblings, even down to the little things. “Even a cabin crew member’s shoe that’s rubbing on her heel, a new shoe that we’ve just given her. That’s not tiny to her. That’s a pain in her heal, and we can fix it quickly.”

“It’s those little details that make an exceptional shop over an average shop, or an exceptional aero plane over an average plane, which is about getting every one of those little details right.”

About Virgin Group

Virgin Group an active technology-focused venture investor with a portfolio of over 35 companies spanning the consumer internet, fintech and sharing economy sectors. The company’s investment team focuses on our core consumer sectors of travel and leisure, telecoms and media, music and entertainment, financial services and health and wellness. Brands under the Virgin Group banner include Virgin Active, Virgin Connect, Virgin Australia, Virgin Records, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Wines, to name a few.

Virgin Group aims to deliver long term capital appreciation through investment in these sectors, known for actively seek new investment opportunities partnering with like-minded investors.


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