I have chosen to write the profile of a Business leader who I admire on Richard Branson. Branson is a English business magnate, best known as the founder and chairman of Virgin Group of more than 400 companies. According to Wagner and Hollenback (2009), leadership is ‘the use of non-coercive and symbolic influence to direct and coordinate the activities of the members of an organised group toward the accomplishment of group objectives. According to Clark (2010), there are three main leadership styles. These are autocratic, democratic and laissez faire. In order to be an effective leader, managers should use all three leadership styles. A good leader should be able to judge which leadership style is most appropriate in a given situation. Research carried out by the University of Michigan and Ohio State University suggests that there are a number of behavioural and leadership theories.
These theories outline different aspects of a leader’s behaviour or leadership style which may differentiate those who are effective leaders from those who are not. For example, the University of Michigan identified two general classes of supervisory behaviour. These are employee oriented and job production oriented behaviours. Research carried out by the Ohio State University is very similar to the above piece of research. They identify the two classes of supervisory behaviour styles as a considerate style i.e. employee oriented and an initiating structure style i.e. job production oriented. Similarly to the two above pieces of research, Fiedler identifies two different leadership styles.
These are relationship motivated leaders i.e. employee oriented/considerate style and task motivated leaders i.e. job production oriented/initiating structure style. Another piece of research conducted by House identifies four different behavioural styles. They are as follows: directive leadership, supportive leadership, participative leadership and achievement oriented leadership. In order for a manager to be an effective leader they must also be able to perform their roles effectively. A modern leader has fourteen main roles.
Richard Branson’s Profile
Richard Charles Nicholas Branson was born on the 18th of July 1950 in Blackheath, London. In his youth, Branson was not an impressive student. He was dyslexic and near-sighted, but he could always make things happen. When he was seventeen, attending school at Stowe, Richard and a classmate started a magazine, Student . When doing an interview with The Guardian he stated “ it was aimed at giving young people a voice on key issues such as the Vietnam War”. He sold £6,000 worth of advertising in its first edition, which was launched in 1966. The first run of 50,000 copies was disseminated for free, after Branson covered the costs with advertising. This was important business and sales experience for Branson and what he learnt during this time benefited him over time. While running the Student from a basement in London, Richard noticed that stores were not discounting records.
Richard began to run ads in the Student offering records at discount prices. The orders flooded in and record sales soon became more profitable than subscription sales. Richard quickly set up an office above an old shoe store and Virgin was born (http://www.lemonadestories.com/virgin.html). The name “Virgin” was suggested by one of Branson’s early employees because they were all new at business. It was from this point that the Virgin brand grew. Earning enough money from his record store, Branson in 1972 launched the record label Virgin Records with Nik Powell and bought a country estate, in which he installed a recording studio. Mike Oldfield, whose debut album Tubular Bells (1973) was Virgin Records’ first release and a chart-topping best-seller. Virgin Records had other notable artists such as “The Sex Pistols” and “Culture Club”. n 1992, to keep his airline company afloat, Branson sold the Virgin label to EMI for £500 million.
Virgin Atlantic had its inaugural flight in 1984 on its then only route between London and New York. After adding a route from Gatwick to Miami in 1986, Virgin Atlantic celebrated its 1,000,00th passenger in 1987. In 2011 Virgin Atlantic carried 5.3 million passengers, making it the eighth largest UK airline in terms of passenger volume. Branson has added other airlines to his Virgin empire such as Virgin Express which operates in Brussles, Virgin Australia and Virgin America. Not being one to shy away from a challenge Branson has had many other ambitious business ventures such as Virgin Vodka, Virgin Cola, the gay night club Heaven, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Money, Virgin Cars, F1 team Virgin Racing and most famously Virgin Galactic which plans to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites.
He himself frequently states that all of these ventures are “calculated risks” which is hard to argue against seeing as Branson is the 4th richest citizen of the United Kingdom, according to the Forbes 2011 list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of US$4.2 billion. Bransons ambitious and risky are not just limited to the business world as he has broke several world records and attempted many more, for example he completed the first balloon flight across the Atlantic in 1996. All these business and adventuring feats make Branson a truly admiral business leader role model.
Branson’s Career and Leadership Style
Branson’s career has been hugely successful from leaving school at 16 to go on to become the 4th richest U.K. resident is remarkable. Branson is clear in his book “Screw it, let’s do it” (2007) about how he has achieved this: “I have no secret. There are no rules to follow in business. I just work hard and, as I always have done, believe I can do it” With this being said he has combatted the tediousness of working hard by indulging himself in whatever he does, taking a genuine interest and having fun with it: “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” Bransons leadership style is undeniably democratic. Although a democratic leader will the final decision, he or she invites other members of the team to contribute to the decision-making process.
This is not only increase job satisfaction by involving employees or team meam members in what’s going on, but it also helps develop people’s skills. Employees and team members feel in control of their own destiny, such as the promotion they desire and so are motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward. Branson professes this in an interview with Kets De Vries (1998) : “: I’m absolutely certain that it’s a question of the kind of people you have, and the way you motivate them. I’m sure that’s what makes any company successful.
If you can motivate your people, use their creative potential, you can get through bad times and you can enjoy the good times together. If you fail to motivate your people, your company is doomed….If your employees are happy and smiling and enjoying their work, they will perform well. Consequently, the customers wiIl enjoy their experience with your com- pany. If your employees are sad and miserable and not having a good time, the customers will be equally miserable.”
In the same interview Branson says he often rewards employees: “We like to reward our key performers for their creative contribution… I suppose that we have made maybe 15 or 20 multimillionaires through this structure.” Branson applies this personal approach when assessing new business like when Virgin Money took over Northern Bank: “When we launched Virgin Money, I met with staff members at branches up and down the country. The insight those visits gave me were priceless.
If I ever needed convincing that investing in a bank was the right thing to do, well, the stories I heard that week confirmed it. To see so many employees enthusiastic and proud to be working for Virgin made me even more excited about the future of our bank. We very much wanted Virgin Money to be the start of something different, and it was great to see that everyone was onboard. I’ve found that if you ensure that your staff and customers are happy and that your product or service is of good quality, the finances often take care of themselves.”
What I could learn from Sir Richard Branson
Through my study of Branson I have took many snippets of advice which I hope to use during my career in business after I complete my studies. Branson is an avid ambassador for his democratic style of leadership: “Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.’ This is definitely a characteristic I want to weave into my leadership fibre. This approach has served Virgin well over the years as in his book, Branson (2009), he mentions a positive outside perspective of working for Virgin which is echoed by the agreement of Virgin staff who enjoy working there. “Virgin people have told me that at the end of a tiring day, when they are off duty, having a drink in the pub, or a meal, they’re occasionally asked where they work. When they say, “With Virgin,” the enquirer usually replies, “Lucky you! That must be a great place to work!” Our staffs usually agrees.”
In addition to this extracted advice he gives open advice to anyone who wants to join him in being an entrepreneur. Forbes magazine (2012) pitched Sir Branson the question “What are your top three pieces of advice for young entrepreneurs?” to which he responded: “1. Create a strong culture of excellence – roll up your sleeves and work alongside your staff and take care of them. 2. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself if it helps your business. 3. Find ways to equally prioritize people, planet and profits – because it CAN be done.” These three points offer up key things to take on board if you are to succeed. Have high standards to give you an edge over competition and if needs be work on the ground level with your staff to set an example of how you expect things to be done.
Take risks even if there is a chance it may make you look silly if it fails, it could help your business and you should lose your ego for the sake of your business. And finally your staff are your greatest resource, environmental and ethical procedures should be taken, Branson has become environmentally aware ever since a speech Al Gore gave him and he has even set up a green fuel business, and do all you can to ensure your business is running profitably. He insists these three things can be done together.Branson is a master marketer and communicator. Forbes (2012), When Richard Branson had the idea of launching Virgin Atlantic, he pitched it to his fellow directors who had no previous experience in the airline business. He delivered the idea simply, concisely, and effectively.
Branson offers leaders and entrepreneurs this advice: “It is vitally important to present a clear, concise plan that investors can easily understand and repeat to their own people. In the first meeting avoid overly complicated, numbers-laden presentations.” Presentations are supposed to be about getting your point across effectively, you could have the most statistical, graphically stunning and hilariously funny presentation to have ever been seen but if the people you are pitching it to don’t come out of that meeting 100% sure what the point you were trying to make was and interested in your idea then you have failed in your objective.As well as learning from Branson’s successes and teachings, there is equally as much to learn from his failings. He expresses this himself: “You don’t learn to walk by following rules.
You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Branson’s book “Business stripped bare” even has a whole chapter called “Damage Report”. One anecdote goes as follows: “I was nineteen years old and driving a shipment of records to Belgium when I stumbled on the fact that records bought in Great Britain that were intended for export were not subject to purchase tax. So I bought the records I needed, pretended they were export, and then sold them to British customers.
The whole ploy involved driving four Transit vans loaded with records to Dover, taking them to France, then returning on the next ferry with the records still on board. It not only was illegal, it was really pretty stupid. In May 1969, I was caught red handed by HM Custom and Excise… But I learned a very important lesson: never do anything that means you can’t sleep at night.” This is a huge piece of advice and something we can learn from and hopefully avoid from encountering ourselves. It cost Richard £60,000 and took almost 3 years for him to patch up such a loss. Illegal doings can almost certainly cost a business its existence and shouldn’t even be thought about.
Michael Walenius (2010) concludes in his analyses of Branson’s leadership that “Sir Richard has got a very high degree of consideration and participation in what he does, but at the same time he is very involved in the structure setting at the start of a new business. He is definitively a relationship-oriented leader who is good at aligning people and giving them emotional support and encouragement. He seems to fall into the segment of being a participative and consultative leader. His very strong charisma seems to make anyone listen and follow him.” I find it extremely difficult to disagree with this evaluation. Branson is an iconic leader who prioritises his employees and their well-being.
He follows his belief that a happy employee will work harder, create a happier and better working environment, infect customers with their pleasantness, resulting with a happy and loyal customer who then by word of mouth praise the business leading to increased revenue. He is extremely insightful with his advice on presentations, assessing business opportunities and acknowledging and learning from your mistakes. With an estimated wealth of £4.3 billion, 400+ companies under his name including the 7th biggest airline in the U.K., the first commercial space travel business and most importantly a well-respected name that’s held in high regard in the public eye Branson truly is the business leader who I most admire and most envy.
Wagner, J.A. and Hollenback, J.R. (2009) Organizational Behaviour: Securing Competitive Advantage, Michigan: Taylor and Francis Richard Branson (2009) Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur. London. Virgin Books.Branson, Richard (29 March 2007). Screw It, Let’s Do It. London. Virgin Books Websites:
Clark, D. (2010) ‘Leadership Styles’ [online] (Cited 3 February 2012) Available from <http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leadstl.html> Kets De Vries (1998) Charisma in Action: (online) (cited 2 December 2012) Available from < http://molar.crb.ucp.pt/cursos/2%C2%BA%20Ciclo%20-%20Mestrados/Gest%C3%A3o/2007-09/DGRH/Papers/Charisma%20in%20action%20PPP.pdf>
Richard Branson (2012) Richard Branson on How to Delegate Control of Your Finances (online) (cited on 2 December 2012) Available from < http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/224879> Carmine Gallo (2011) Richard Branson: The One Skill Leaders Need to Learn (online) (cited 2 December) Available from < http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2011/06/29/richard-branson-the-one-skill-leaders-need-to-learn/> Michael Walenius (2010) The leadership style of Sir Richard Branson (online) (cited 2 December) Available from < http://michael.walenius.com/?p=141>