My whirlwind trip around the world, visiting Virgin businesses and making a number of speeches along the way, has given me plenty of time on planes to reflect on what really makes a great company and how to build and sustain a winning brand and culture.
With that challenge in the back of my mind, it was particularly poignant to close this globetrotting week with Virgin Atlantic’s Business is an Adventure event in Seattle, aimed at inspiring entrepreneurs.
Seattle is home to Boeing, the company that gave me a break 33 years ago, by renting a second-hand 747 to a young upstart record producer to launch Virgin Atlantic. Today, the airline – that most people wrote off at the time as having no chance of surviving – is finally flying back to Boeing’s home town. And it still exudes that same challenger confidence and sense of fun that started it all.
Seattle is also the home of Alaska Airlines, which last week announced it would retire Virgin America. I have explained how saddened and baffled I am by the decision. When Alaska paid $2.6 billion for the company, I had assumed they knew what they were buying, and that they would treasure our great people, culture, brand and product. Sadly, it seems, they have decided to rip the heart out of the airline.
However at the same time, I have been extremely touched by the outpouring of love and support from our customers and our people. It has reinforced to me how important it is to build your business around people and culture, and a strong purpose and great experience. If you can really do that, in the way Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin America have done over the years, you will create a successful and well-loved business.
As I left Seattle, I hope that message resonated with the entrepreneurs at our Business is an Adventure event.
The one silver lining for the people of the Northwest Pacific is that Virgin’s wonderful culture still flies on every day with Virgin Atlantic.