Insights from Sir Richard Branson at the World Business Forum

Sir Richard Branson lights up the room with stories of innovation and culture at the World Business Forum. From delegation to innovation to the importance of parties, Sir Richard Branson shares his insights into business.

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Live insights from the World Business Forum

Sir Richard Branson entrepreneur, story teller, tie-hater kept the World Business Forum audience spellbound with stories of the Virgin empire, lessons learned and insights into creating great culture and pursuing innovation.

Early in life I had to learn the art of delegation.

If you don’t, you’ll just end up being a manager, not a true entrepreneur. What you need to do is find people who love people, who look for the best in people, who are good at praising and motivating people and will work hard to make their particular company the happiest and the most productive as a result.

I would go in, set up a company then go back to my houseboat and make sure someone else was there to run it. It has worked pretty well. If you’re building a company I recommend if you want a decent life try to put yourself out of business and find someone better than yourself to run it on a day to day basis. Retreat from the building because people want to deal with the top person. That way you can think about the bigger picture and how to take the company forward into new areas.

Try to promote from within if you can.

Often the right people are right under your nose. Too often people get experts from outside but right in their own company there could be someone who if given the chance will really excel.

The cleaning lady in one division ended up running all our studios. The watersports person on Nekker Island ended up running the whole island.

The best businesses come out of frustration.

I started my first venture at 15 years old. The Vietnam war was going on and it was an unjust war. Many young people wanted to campaign against it and we wanted a voice about the education system, which we felt was flawed.

I had a desire to do something so I left school and started a magazine and ever since whenever I come across a situation where there is that frustration I have thought let me see if I can put this right.

I was flying from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands when I was 28. I’d been away from home for three weeks and I had a gorgeous lady waiting and American Airlines announced they wouldn’t fly til the next morning because of demand. So I went to the back of the airport, borrowed a blackboard and scribbled “Virgin Airlines $39 one way’ and I managed to fill up my first flight.

The power of a good leader is to always look for the best in people.

The best bit of advice my mother ever gave me was how badly it reflected on me if I spoke badly about someone else. The power of a good leader is to always look for the best in people. There are many reasons when someone messes up. You need to understand that rather than jump down their throats and criticise. We try to find leaders at Virgin who live by that general advice.

Because I was dyslexic I never got a firm of accountants to look at the figures before I started a company.

If I’d had a consultant look at the figures for an airline they may have said I’d lose a fortune. The important thing is to instinctively feel you can do it better than anyone else. If you do, more money will come in than goes out. If you come up with an idea that will make a positive difference to people’s lives it’s more likely to work out – it’s rare that special things go bust.

You have to warrant the razzamatazz.

I was shy as a child. The shyness never went away until I launched an airline. I was told the only way it would survive was if I used myself to get out there and put it on the map. I needed to end up on the front pages not back pages, so we went for it.

Having said that, the products need to stack up or the press will get bored with you. You have to warrant the razzamatazz.

It’s people that unite the Virgin companies…and parties are important.

If you go on a Virgin Australia plane you feel extraordinary warmth from the crew. We like…a sense of humour and a willingness to give where give is due and take where take is due.

So many different things make for a happy company and, sometimes it is little things that count. We took over a chunk of Britain’s rail network and the first thing we did was invite all 10,000 staff and their partners and kids and put on the biggest festival in Oxford over six days. I shook hands with everyone when they came in.  They were completely transformed – they created the best rail network in the world and now instead of nine million travelling on that network we have 35 million. Parties are important!

We are always experimenting with new approaches.

Over the last three years Virgin Group has allowed employees to have as much time off as they want on a paid basis as long as they get their work done.We’re trying to treat everyone as they’d expect to be treated at your family home, like adults.

That won’t work in every company, but in offices that can be made to work.

If we could get every single business person to adopt a problem…we’d make a big difference.

Companies in the past have thought all the problems of world should be sorted out by politicians and the social sector, and their job is to just build businesses. But you’re missing a massive opportunity. Business people are generally much more entrepreneurial than politicians and the social sector. They can see the problems in the world with much greater clarity sometimes and can help. If we could get every single business person to adopt a problem in their local community or nation or globally, we’d make a big difference.