English businessman (pictured right), who set up his company, Virgin, in 1970 as a mail order record
He then produced records for artists like the Sex Pistols and Mike Oldfield (whose album, Tubular
Bells, made Branson a millionaire), .
But he sold his record company to EMI in 1992 to finance his airline, Virgin Atlantic and
numerous other Virgin businesses like mobile phones, video games and a new record company V2 (which signed the
Why is he a great leader?
1. Purpose and fun
He went into business not just to make money but to have some fun and “create something you are proud
of”, he says.
He wants to beat established companies with great value and service, supported by the Virgin
brand. So he is constantly listening and learning from customers and employees
about how to improve Virgin's products.
He is a practical joker with a love of parties and adventure.
In 1987 he nearly died when making the first transatlantic hot air balloon flight (pictured right
with his co-pilot, Per Lindstrand)
2. Risk taker
His love of adventure shows he is prepared to take risks (everyone thought he was mad to
set up an airline).
But he always tries to minimize his losses, if the business fails. “Limit the
downside”, he says.
For example, he didn’t buy the planes for his airline but leased them.
He also seeks partnerships with other companies to finance his businesses
(called joint ventures or strategic alliances).
3. Tough but nice
Branson (pictured right) believes a reputation for honesty and
fairness is crucial to success, learning painfully from being fined and briefly
imprisoned for tax evasion in 1971.
He hates making people redundant and is great with people (see points 4 and 5).
But he’s also:
a brilliant, ruthless negotiator.
resolute in defending his interests.
He is never afraid to sue people like his successful libel action in 1993 against British Airways’ dirty
tricks campaign, which tried to damage the reputation of Virgin Atlantic.
4. People person
He has a deep sense of responsibility for other people and manages to keep a loyal and
motivated workforce, despite often paying them less than competitors.
He believes that happy employees mean happy customers and so happy shareholders (because
of higher profits).
After a motorway accident in 1994 that nearly killed him and his family, he still answered all the 200 letters
that fell out of the car and were returned to him by the police.
His charm and enthusiasm win people over, helped by his support of
good causes like:
Live Aid (pictured right) in 1985 (his planes sent food to Ethiopia)
the fight against AIDS.
His book, Screw Business As Usual, strongly supports corporate social responsibility,
particularly protecting the environment.
He motivates his staff by:
praise and listening to their problems.
being fair and friendly.
keeping them well informed.
making their work as fun as possible, giving them autonomy and
control over their work.
He would like his epitaph to be:
“He treated people well”.
Despite being incredibly wealthy (he’s worth billions), he is modest and fairly indifferent towards material
things, like his mansion in Oxfordshire, home in London, and his own island in the Caribbean.
Earlier, when he lived in a houseboat, it sank.
But he wasn’t bothered because he recovered the one thing that mattered most to him, a family photo
6. Love of change and innovation
His business never stands still.
He is always looking to create new Virgin businesses (including space travel!) where:
there is big demand and competition is weak.
he is confident he can do it better than anybody else.
He encourages creativity by:
a) disliking conventional wisdom
(continually seeking new and better ways of doing things).
b) bureaucracy busting
(removing unnecessary bureaucracy).
(to good ideas from employees and customers).
d) giving employees power and autonomy
(to carry out new ideas in small groups and companies, so they feel involved and valued).
7. Brilliant publicist
He has used himself to advertise Virgin with style and humour, including dressing up as a
bride to launch Virgin's weddings business (pictured right).
8. Action with reflection
Inspired by his active mother (who banned TV), he is always thinking what to do.
This is why he is an inveterate list maker (lists of jobs to do, ideas, people to meet and
call etc) and notepad writer, scribbling down notes about conversations and the suggestions of
customers and employees.
He’s a great listener, giving people his undivided attention.
When he decides to do something, he does it very quickly. “Move like a bullet”, he
It took him and his small team only four months to get Virgin Atlantic started.
9. Great organizer
Despite his informal and relaxed manner, he keeps all his businesses working well by: