I recently won a copy of Sir Richard Branson's new book "The Virgin Way" as a prize in recognition of my work. I have long wanted to meet this innovator and lifelong entrepreneur. Since the event, quite a few people have asked me to share my story of how I made this happen and the lessons I learned from my meeting with Richard.
I won the prize of meeting Sir Richard in response to an article I wrote called "Dear Dad" – Read it here. He posted an article which talked about how leadership lessons are often learned at home and invited people to share their stories of learning from family members. In just over one hour I had produced my article. It clearly connected and I then received a personal invite to meet him. What then did I learn from my brief encounter with the ultimate Virgin?
Listen and Learn – Richard sees listening and learning as key priorities. These might seem obvious, but in my life as a business consultant, these qualities are not in common circulation even in some of the best companies around the world. Neither are these hollow platitudes from an HR guru, since Richard's principles are grounded in gritty real life examples that illustrate just why even the simplest of things are sometimes hard to do if you don't have your head, heart and soul in the business.
Make tough decisions – I gained insights into Richard's money making instinct, without which he would have still been making records for psychedelic rock bands such as Gong and Tangerine Dream as an independent retailer. He talks of a friend who considered floating his farming business which would have made him extremely rich but turned away from it 'being owned by investors' was not at his core. Wise words, since if there is no alignment between these things, there can often be other problems coming over the hill.
Simply Red – one of the books I gave to Sir Richard for light reading on Necker Island
Screw it let's do it – Richard Branson's initial success was based on taking a huge risk to sign Mike Oldfield. Branson took a counter cultural risk in releasing "Tubular Bells':
Screw it up – Branson also talks about the often avoided issues of failure and our vulnerabilities as human beings, being honest enough to admit that his "Screw it, Let's Do it" maxim can lead to occasional errors such as Virgin Coke and Virgin Condoms, aka Mates. By acknowledging the value of failure and his own vulnerabilities Richard gains uncommon strength in a world which prefers not to discuss such things.
We are family – The value of family advice from close family members is also discussed in The Virgin Way. When you are surrounded by paid advisers sometimes you can only really get an authentic cross check on your decisions by those who are not paid to care about your business. I recall having tea with the Rt Hon Peter Jay some years back who suggested something similar.
Richard Branson's new book, "The Virgin Way" is available on Amazon. I'll be speaking about it in events coming up for Pfizer, in Romania, Henley Business School and Germany in the coming months.