Richard Branson opened a small record shop called Virgin Records in 1970. He had dropped out of high school a few years prior, and his only other business experience was running his own magazine.
Today, Branson is worth $US5.1 billion and is chairman of the Virgin Group, which consists of more than 400 companies around the world.
Eight of those companies bring in over a billion dollars in revenue annually.
Over the past 40 years, Branson has learned the ins and outs of business through trial and error, and has figured out how to continue building an empire of innovative companies.
In his 2012 book “Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School,” Branson shares his five secrets for starting a business:
1. “If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.”
“When I started Virgin from a basement in west London, there was no great plan or strategy. I didn’t set out to build a business empire. I simply wanted to create something people would enjoy using, have fun doing it and at the end of the day prayed that it would make enough to pay the bills,” Branson writes.
2. “Be innovative — create something different.”
From the moment he decided to give his company a risqué name back in 1970, Branson has always been about standing out in the world. He writes that he founded Virgin Atlantic in 1984 as an airline that actually had great customer service — which he says was unfortunately a breakthrough idea at the time. Today he’s readying Virgin Galactic to be the first company to offer civilians trips to space.
3. “Pride of association works wonders.”
“For me there is nothing sadder than hearing someone being apologetic about the place where they are working,” he writes. Successful business owners recognise that their employees are their most valuable asset, and make them feel appreciated. Proud employees not only work harder, but save businesses money on hiring through higher retention rates.
4. “Lead by listening.”
Great managers recognise that they don’t have all the answers and build teams that can help grow the company. “Sure, you need to know your own mind, but there is no point in imposing your views on others without some debate and a degree of consensus,” Branson says.
He also says that the best leaders are quick to praise good work, which compels employees to contribute their best ideas.
5. “Be visible.”
Founders of companies do not shut themselves off from their employees, whether they’re running a startup or a multibillion-dollar corporate empire. They find ways to keep lines of communication open with the managers below them, as well as low-level employees.
Branson says he keeps a small notebook with him whenever he’s interacting with Virgin employees of any level, and when he’s flying Virgin, he says he likes asking passengers about their experience with the airline.
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