I caught up with Sir Richard Branson, as he was releasing his latest book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership. Branson is an international entrepreneur, adventurer, icon, and the founder of the Virgin Group. The Virgin Group is one of the world’s most recognized and respected brands, with over 400 companies. His previous best-selling books include Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School, Losing My Virginity, Screw It, Let’s Do It, Business Stripped Bare, Reach for the Skiesand Screw Business As Usual. According to the Forbes 2012 list of billionaires, Branson is the sixth richest citizen of the United Kingdom, with an estimated net worth of US$4.6 billion. Today, Branson's Pioneering Commercial Spaceflight Virgin Galactic announced a global partnership with Grey Goose Vodka.
You can read Branson's blog or follow him on Twitter for more live updates from his extraordinary life @richardbranson. In the following interview, Branson talks about his rule-breaking leadership style, his involvement in hiring and selecting leaders for Virgin, how he originally came up with his companies values and mission, and more.
Richard Branson: Rule-breaker – because I never learned the rules in the first place. To change the game is at the heart of what Virgin stands for, so the company culture has always been: “Don’t sweat it: rules were meant to be broken.”
Schawbel: What is your process for selecting leaders at Virgin? What qualities do you look for in new leaders and what qualities are your biggest turnoffs?
Branson: I’m quite involved in hiring for leadership and I look to hire my weaknesses. Personality before CV. A person who has multiple degrees in your field isn’t always better than someone with broad experience and a wonderful personality. I like to take chances on people, and whenever possible, promote from within – it sends a great message to everyone in the company when someone demonstrates a passion for the job and leadership skills at every step along the way and is rewarded with a leadership role.
Schawbel: How did you originally come up with Virgin's values, vision and mission and then find the right people who believed in you and the company?
Branson: The Virgin values have and will always be the same: to change the game and challenge the status quo by providing a product or service of great use. My first business venture was Student magazine. Along the way, we saw gaps in the market where Virgin could play a role and can be an incredible force for good, and that’s become our motto. If you love what you do and if you believe in what you do, others will share your enthusiasm. Passionate people find their way to the Virgin Group, and when they do, we snap them up and try to keep them within the family.
Schawbel: From the beginning, how often would you research what your competitors were doing? What did you learn from them early on that helped you develop your branding strategy?
Branson: Researching the competition has never been the Virgin way. Many of our products and services come about because we pay attention to what the market is missing or what's not being done well. The commitment is about doing things differently.
Our strategy has been to screw business as usual. To look at what it is our customer wants, and what it is the industry needs, and to go in and exceed their expectations. And we’ve been successful not by wasting time scrutinising our competitors but by looking at ourselves from the point of view of our customers do and seeking feedback through listening.
Schawbel: What are your top three leadership principles?
Branson: 1. Listening is one of the most important skills that anyone can have. That’s a very Virgin trait. Listening enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace, and from the mistake that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive. I learn so much from guests and employees that way.
2. Learn: Learning and leadership go together. Too much credit goes to me for what we have achieved at Virgin but the successes happen from working and learning with some of the world’s most inspiring and inspired people.
3. Laughter: My number one rule in business, and in life, is to enjoy what you do. Running a business involves long hours and hard decisions; if you don’t have the passion to keep you going, your business will more than likely fail. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it.