Here we pick out five key insights from the Virgin Group founder, who was on hand to share what he’s learnt about being a leader during his time at the head of the Virgin brand.
1. There’s nothing more important that delegation
"Delegation is the absolute key. When people start a business they will want to cling onto everything and the result of this is that they have a difficult personal life, don’t keep fit and healthy and ultimately they will only ever stay small. The best bit of advice I can give entrepreneurs who have six or seven staff, and the business is just getting going, is to go out and find someone better than you to do the day-to-day running of the business. You need to give yourself time to think of the bigger picture. Being dyslexic was, in the end, a blessing - I couldn’t do everything myself so was forced to go out and find brilliant people to help out."
2. Take notes
"If I’m on a Virgin flight I’ll make sure I bring my notepad with me. I’ll walk around and speak to as many staff and passengers as possible, listening to everything they have to say about the plane and the overall experience. Listening is such an important quality for leaders, but many don’t do it. Even after 33 years of running an airline, at the end of every flight I’ll have ten or so points in my notepad about how we can do things better.
"We had salt and pepper pots in the shape of windmills on our Virgin Atlantic planes, but they were so popular that everyone kept stealing them. The accountants came to me and said we needed to stop using them; it was costing us quite a bit of money. So I asked the staff and customers what they thought and the resounding opinion was we needed to keep them - everyone loved them. We ended up putting “pinched from Virgin Atlantic” on the bottom of them, which meant they soon became our best form advertising when people brought them out at dinner parties."
3. Lead from the front
"Believe it or not, when I started off in business I was quite shy – I had to train myself to get out there and meet people. I decided we needed to get the company on the map, we needed to be on the front page of the newspapers. There’s no point in creating a great product if nobody knows it exists, they won’t be able to buy it.
"Making yourself the face of your business can help enormously with getting recognition for your brand, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. By doing challenges in hot air balloons, speed boats and travelling around the world it enabled us to make our brand far more sexy and appealing than our rivals."
4. Don’t let fear of failure stop you
"It’s important that people realise that around nine out of 10 new businesses will fail. The nine entrepreneurs who end up failing should be celebrated as the process will have taught them so much, which means the likelihood of them succeeding next time around is that much higher. Whether it’s an entrepreneur whose business hasn’t worked out or someone in your team who has taken a risk, don’t brand someone as a failure for trying. I had boats that have sunk, balloons that have crashed and I’ve always got back up and given it another go."
5. Show that you care
"Qualities such as talent and drive are of course important, but at Virgin what we value most in leaders is the ability to show a genuine interest and duty of care for their teams. We want the opposite of the entrepreneurial stereotype, who will step over people to get where they want to in life. That’s never been the Virgin approach. You tend to find that people don’t really come to work to just make money; they want to be listened to and appreciated. Focusing on these attributes as a leader will work better for everyone in the long run."
To learn more about leadership, head over to Virgin Atlantic's Business is an Adventure hub.