By Gabriele Rutkauskaite
Sir Richard Branson is the head of The Virgin Group. As a billionaire and an innovator, he impresses a lot of people with his ideas, but as opposed to other billionaires, Branson did not study in a prestigious university, instead, dropping out of school when he was fifteen. Though he never had a formal university education, today’s business textbooks use examples of The Virgin Group business experience and strategies.
Recently Richard Branson attended FORUM ONE, the biggest leadership forum in Eastern Europe. There, he shared his experiences and gave advice to future leaders. According to Richard Branson, it is important to do something that you really enjoy, potentially integrating a hobby into your work. Richard Branson believes the ability to change the business, to have the ability to take it where you want to go, is one of the keys to success.
“I thought that airlines didn’t treat people very well. I rang an airplane manufacturer and said, ‘Hello, my name is Richard Branson, I have a record company and I want to buy a Boeing 747.’ They were good enough to take it seriously, to listen to me and at the end they sent a sales person.” — the flamboyant billionaire recalls, remembering the beginnings of his airline company.
There are many business leaders who fail at the beginning. For example, Harland David Sanders, the creator of KFC, could not sell his chicken recipe, with over 1,000 restaurants rejecting him. Similarly, Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper due to his ”lack of imagination and ideas.”
Richard Branson highlights particular failures in his own business career.
“The most spectacular failure we ever had started as one of our biggest successes and we rather cheekily thought we could take on Coca-Cola. We had a soft drink which tasted as good, if not better. We had a brand, and that brand was a young, beautiful, sexy brand.”
Branson says that in the first year everything went very well and it seemed that Virgin Cola would replace Coca-Cola. However, Coca-Cola responded to the Virgin Cola incursion into their market and it was replaced with Coca-Cola on the store shelves. They crashed us!”
According to the billionaire, the lesson is; “If you do something, make sure you are massively better, that way, even if the big guys bring guns you will still beat them.”
Richard Branson notices a difference between attitudes toward failure in various countries. He compares Lithuania and America.
“In this country (Lithuania), they do not accept failure as much as they should. In America, there are many entrepreneurs who try things, they fail once, fail twice, and then succeed the third time. People who try, should be praised and lauded for trying.”
Richard Branson left school to start his own newspaper business.
“If you have an idea, the best way to learn about running a business, is just to get out there and do it.”
“You can go to University to obtain a science degree or technical degree, or to become a doctor. There are plenty of reasons to go to University, but the kind of learning that happens when one becomes entrepreneur, is not necessarily what business school can teach you. With entrepreneurs, it is just a matter of getting on and doing it.”
However, Branson admits he is closely working with scientists and engineers, especially on projects such as Virgin Galactic.
Richard Branson has a clear opinion on education and he knows a lot of business people are not going to university to learn business.
Another important factor for a successful business is the ability to dream. Richard Branson says that some projects such as Virgin Galactic, for example, were only dreams some time ago.
“I assumed that one day I would be going to the Moon and many of us one day will be going to space. I like to dream. I have always liked to dream and I like my dreams become reality. As you get older and as you get more experience with what you are doing you can dream bigger. Dream big! Dreams can also be a challenge for others. They may or may not succeed. Unless you set people challenges, nothing happens, but set those challenges. It is enormous fun trying.”
He is not only a successful businessman, but also a person living an interesting life. One day he is in the media dressed as a stewardess, another day he is trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an air balloon, and in the end, rescued by helicopters.
“I am lucky I don’t really have a typical day,” he said. “My family life and business have been successful.”
When asked what would be his advice on what to do and what not to do, Richard Branson is clear: “Live life to its fullest, have fun of whatever you are doing and do it with a smile. Do not do business as usual. Do not allow things work in a boring way, shake them up, make sure your life is fun, enjoyable, entertaining. Whatever jobs you are doing, make sure it is fun and entertaining. And just do it — just give it a go.”
(Gabriele Rutkauskaite is a Journalist based in Lithuania)