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Richard Branson is a rock star. Or at least he is to the crowd of business leaders and entrepreneurs at the 2012 World Business Forum. He took the stage at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday to cheers and a hundreds of outstretched camera phones. Branson played to the crowd’s enthusiasm by indulging in a Rockette-style chorus line kick with interviewer and angel investor Mark Thompson before starting the informal talk.
Between plugging his new Virgin Galactic venture and sharing a glimpse of his personal life and philanthropic endeavors, Branson offered a few gems of his unique entrepreneurial approach to business. Here are some highlights.
1. Give over control. ″We are an unusual brand in that most big businesses focus in one area, while Virgin has become a way of life brand.″ Branson explained. He said that he looks for an area of life that needs to be improved, (citing trains and airlines as examples) and then looks for the right people to run it.
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″We find brilliant people to run it, give them a lot of freedom to make mistakes, and don′t second guess them all the time,″ he explained. His hands-off management approach means that he delegates almost all of his businesses to his team, and just ″dives in occasionally.″
2. Put your employees' happiness first. To work for his Virgin Group, you have to have the same fun-loving spirit as its founder, who mentioned that he prefers to promote from within. He looks for ″people who are willing to go get drunk with the staff in the evenings, people who can let their hair down, and be flexible and listen [to their employees].″
His belief that a happy team makes for a successful business starts with paying attention to all of the details that affect an employee’s work. ″Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader,″ he explained, ″you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.″
Branson said that he believes that, ″by putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end the shareholder comes first by default as well.″
3. Keep your sense of humor when dealing with the competition. When Virgin Airlines was starting out, rival British Airways was intent on putting its startup competitor out of business. What followed in the early and mid-1990s was referred to as the ″dirty-tricks campaign.″
Not only did Virgin come out on top, but took a few jabs at their competition in the process. ″If you are a small company taking on a big company, you need to have a sense of humor,″ Branson explained.
When the BA-sponsored London Eye Ferris wheel experienced technical problems before it was erected, Virgin seized the opportunity to grab headlines from its competitor and flew a blimp with the words ″BA Can′t Get It Up″ over the London Eye.
Branson′s bold approach to running and growing his businesses might not be for everyone, but his star power can′t be denied. When Thompson asked what the one thing he could do to start on a similar unconventional business path, Branson responded by taking out a pair of scissors, cutting off Thompson′s tie and tossing it to the audience. He then exited the stage like the celebrity that he is -- high-fiving his fans in the front row.
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