Meet Josh Bayliss, Virgin Group CEO

Virgin CEO Josh Bayliss looking at the camera, against a blue background
Image from Leon Csernohlavek
The Virgin logo in red text on a white background
by Virgin
10 December 2018

As CEO of the Virgin Group, Josh Bayliss manages the Virgin brand and our capital investments. Quite a job! We caught up with Josh in October 2018 to find out what makes him tick…

So Josh, what have you been up to this week?

We just completed our annual gathering of CEOs from all around the Virgin Group. We capped off the day with our annual Stars of the Year event at Holly and Sam Branson’s house in Kidlington. It was a wonderful party with some truly inspirational stars!

You must do a lot of travelling. Do you get jet lag?

I am pretty good at managing jet lag. I realised long ago that I couldn’t control the amount of sleep I get, so I focus on fitness and diet to keep me in decent shape when I’m travelling. It’s always hard to say no to the delicious-looking glass of champagne Virgin Atlantic’s cabin crew offers at the start of the journey!

What is your main business priority right now?

We have a number of really big businesses that we have been developing for several years all coming to fruition over the next 12 months or so. Our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit will be a big focus for me and the team in 2019. So will Virgin Hotels, which opens its new property in San Francisco in 2019, as well as Virgin Voyages, whose first cruise ship will be delivered in 2019, and we can set sail!

Looking back over the last 12 months, what have been Virgin’s biggest achievements?

The standout business achievements, for me, start with the merger of Virgin Money in the UK with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank to create a much bigger Virgin Money that sits at the top table of UK financial institutions. In addition, the successful merger of Flying Club and Virgin Red to create the platform for a group-wide Virgin loyalty company is incredibly exciting.

On the philanthropic side, the establishment of the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator to unite countries in that region to become self-sufficient on renewable sources of energy was a brilliant achievement.

Richard Branson and Josh Bayliss sitting next to each other and sharing a joke, surrounded by an audience
Image from Lucas Jarvis, Eventive Photography

What do you do to relax?

I love riding a bike up mountains, either on or off the road. At my wife’s urging, I am also doing a bit more yoga.

You’ve got a day off! How do you spend it with your family?

We’ve enjoyed a beautiful and long summer, and made the most of it with long hikes in the Alps and swimming in the lake near our home. My kids are so busy with their own sports that I’m very likely to spend some of the day standing on the sideline cheering them on!

Is Virgin Galactic on the verge of a space-flight revolution?

Absolutely, and it will be a great testament to the hard work of hundreds of people over more than a decade.

A few other companies are trying to do the same as Virgin Galactic. Is this market big enough for all to survive?

Actually, I think what Virgin Galactic will offer its customers will be a unique experience, and I don’t see anyone else getting people to space in the same way any time soon. Having said that, human curiosity and the desire for adventure gives me great confidence that there will be many people who want to travel into space, maybe more than once.

What one thing clearly outlines the Virgin brand?

What I see consistently from successful Virgin companies is that their people are empowered to be themselves and do the right thing for their customers. It’s essential that we continue to support all of our people to flourish in this way, and give them the tools to provide the wonderful experiences our customers associate with Virgin.

We’ve heard stories of an interesting interview with Richard Branson when you applied for the general counsel of Virgin Group. What actually happened?

Richard had double-booked me, so when I showed up at his house for the interview, he was heading out to a music awards ceremony. He offered me the choice between returning the following morning or taking a ride across London with him. It was a no-brainer – we did the interview in the car.

Richard sits holding a microphone, speaking to Josh Bayliss
Image from 100% Human at Work

What lessons did you learn early in your career?

Hard work is an essential ingredient for success, but it’s not enough on its own. With the right people around you, anything is possible.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a scientist so I could turn myself into the Incredible Hulk.

You used to be a lawyer. How has this helped in your role?

A lot of business is based on negotiations and contracts. Knowing the ropes can be helpful in a clutch situation.

Anything you would have done differently in your role to date?

It’s been a remarkable period for Virgin, and I am proud of what the team has achieved. While it can be an essential part of business, selling companies is really hard and has a huge impact on peoples’ lives. It can be tough to see through.

Your house is on fire! Apart from family members and pets, what three things do you grab?

My wedding photo album, a painting by Milan Mrkusich, which hangs on our wall and made me cry when I first saw it, and my children’s memory boxes.

Josh Bayliss and Richard Branson take part in an indoor cycling class at Virgin Active
Image from Virgin Active

What are your favourite three albums?

David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, Steely Dan – let’s say Can’t Buy a Thrill – and Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.

What’s your favourite movie?

Tough one, but those I have probably watched the most over the years are Blade Runner and Withnail & I.

Do you have any business rules?

Rules are made for breaking.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Probably differently than my team would.

What makes a good CEO?

A person with a great understanding of the role their business plays in people’s lives, and how it can improve them, with a relentless focus on long-term strategy and their people.

What is the best business advice you have been given?

Trust your instinct.