Learning from mistakes
- Nov 10, 2008
When I was 19 and running our record mail order service I stumbled on the fact that records bought in Great Britain intended for export were not subject to purchase tax. I bought the records I needed, pretended they were for export, and then sold them to British customers. I was caught red-handed by HM Customs & Excise and put in a cell overnight. Naturally I agreed to pay back everything and the fines imposed and avoided a criminal record. It nearly killed off my entrepreneurial dreams; thankfully it didn't. But it did teach me a hard lesson about never doing anything illegal or unethical again.
One thing is certain in business. You and everyone around you will make mistakes. When you are pushing the boundaries, this is inevitable – and it's important to realise this. Even when things are running well, there is always the prospect of a new reality round the corner. Suddenly, all the good decisions you made last week are doing you untold damage. What on earth did you do wrong? At Virgin, we have always been prepared to face the facts – however unpalatable they might be. Failure usually occurs when leaders avoid the reality of business. You have to trust the people around you to learn from their mistakes. Blame and recriminations are pointless.