A CEO shares the unusual strategy billionaire Richard Branson taught him for hiring the best employees

Rowan Gormley CEO of Majestic WineRowan GormleyRowan Gormley, CEO of Majestic Wine

When it comes to hiring talent, Majestic Wine CEO Rowan Gormley doesn’t just sit around waiting for the right candidates to apply for the job. He proactively recruits people he has a good feeling about.

It’s a technique he learned from his former boss, Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson. It boils down to a basic mantra: trust your instincts.

Gormley spoke with Business Insider on his career path, from his time at Virgin to his current position as the CEO of one of the UK’s largest wine retailers.

Gormley first encountered Branson while working for a private equity firm on a deal with Virgin that never quite came together.

“After that was over, Richard just phoned me up and offered me a job,” Gormley says. “Which was weird, because at first I thought he was a friend pretending to be Richard Branson. When I asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you can do.'”

Branson didn’t actually have a job in mind for Gormley when he hired him, but he was soon made managing director of financial services, despite having never before held a managing role before. He says that working at Virgin was “great fun” and inspirational, explaining that Branson hires people based on his gut.

“It was just Richard saying, ‘Yep, I think you can do this. OK. Go ahead.'”

Gormley attributes this good intuition to Branson having never received a formal education in business — the Virgin founder dropped out of school at age 16.

“He always said he never had his instincts educated out of him,” Gormley says. “He was prepared to make much bolder decisions based upon what he believed in, rather than a careful analysis of every option. I think that people who went to business school are massively in favour of using data — but a lot of them just allow themselves to be paralysed by the data. Richard was interested in the data, but he was also interested in what his gut feeling told him. He was prepared to take big, ballsy bets on the basis of what he believed to be right. And he was normally proved to be right.”

At Majestic Wine, Gormley says he can point to a good number of his current workers who he hired off the cuff.

“They were hired with no portfolio but have proved to be fantastic people,” Gormley says. “How often can you find fantastic people who just happen to be looking for a job at the same time as when you happen to be hiring? That’s relying on coincidence, isn’t it?”

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