Tycoon’s self-help manual for business leaders

The Virgin Way by Richard Branson. Virgin Books. €25. Hardback. ISBN: 9781905264902. 381pp

Mon, Oct 6, 2014, 01:00


Book Title:
The Virgin Way


Richard Branson

Virgin Books

Guideline Price:

As one of the stand-out business figures of his generation , Richard Branson’s story has been well aired. Moreover, with an autobiography, Losing my Virginity, and four other book titles to his name, it’s hard to see what his motivation is for writing another.

Branson, it becomes apparent, still has lessons to impart and this latest volume takes the form of a self-help manual for business leaders with an extended explanation of his philosophy of doing business.

In short, The Virgin Way is about daring to be different, cutting through the complex and bringing passion to work every day to provide customers with great experiences.

Easier said than done, to be fair, and Branson has plenty of pointers and case study examples to pepper through the 380 or so pages of this book. It’s hard also to argue with his track record of success in many diverse industry sectors over the years.

Branson has little time for the macho style of management. There’s a neat sideswipe at Michael O’ Leary for his infamous line about his favourite customer being one “with a pulse and a credit card”.

Being voted Europe’s least liked airline by TripAdvisor subscribers is not something that would sit well with him, regardless of the bottom line, Branson says.

Surprisingly, he comes across at the start of the book as a somewhat curmudgeonly uncle, bemoaning modern ways. He complains about people using digital devices at meetings and says that the art of listening is dying.

He’s on firmer ground when he observes the beauty of simplicity in communication. He name checks his “friend” Larry Page, founder of Google, who has told him that colleagues at the internet giant all know that sending him anything much longer than a tweet exponentially increases the likelihood that he will never find time to read it.

Capturing someone’s attention in writing is like the process of mooring an ocean liner, he explains. First the thin lightweight rope (the tweet) gets tossed to the dockhand, this leads to a stronger line (the email) that eventually pulls in the big heavy mooring hawser (the full presentation).

Branson has not favoured having a formal office over the years and uses this as the backdrop to make a virtue of the “management by walking around” philosophy that sits well with the informal culture he has created at Virgin.

He does himself no favours here though by mentioning that when he worked from home in London, the constant stream of visitors played havoc with domestic life, so he bought an identical house two doors away and moved his family the short distance down the street.

There’s some interesting observations about the difference between being an entrepreneur and a manager. In his own case, he usually makes a conscious effort to try to stay out of the day-to-day running of the business as this is better handled by his managers, whom he encourages to take ownership of routine decision-making.

Pros and cons

Paradoxically, there are times, he acknowledges, when entrepreneurs have found that stepping back into the driving seat in companies they have founded can be just as important as knowing when to exit. Think Steve Jobs, for example, or again Larry Page.

He has plenty of advice on the art of decision-making: don’t dive in with overenthuasiasm for new ideas but rather weight up the pros and cons carefully; if you can’t see the cons or if they have not been presented to you, get someone to go digging for them; avoid decision-making in isolation and do everything you can to protect the downside.

Likeable through Branson is and motivational though his book is in parts, there’s not too much here, however, that we didn’t already know or couldn’t easily figure out for ourselves.