After taking Virgin Atlantic’s live entrepreneur event series, Business is an Adventure, to five different US cities over the past year, it was great to be able to touchdown in the Caribbean - a region that will always be of great significance to me and our airline.
After all, the unofficial inaugural Virgin flight took place after I was bumped off a flight from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands back when I was 28. The flight wasn’t particularly full, so the airline just cancelled it.
The problem was, I had my now a delightful lady waiting for me in BVI and I was dammed if I wasn’t going to see her. So I hired a small plane and borrowed a blackboard and as a joke I wrote “Virgin Airlines” on the top of the blackboard, “$39 one way to BVI”. I went out round all the passengers who had been bumped and I filled up my first plane. At the time all I was thinking about was getting to a beautiful woman waiting for me on a beautiful island – she is now my wife, Joan.
But looking back now, it’s a great example of how life throws opportunities at you to lead – you can either grab them with both hands or let them pass you by. Taking the opportunity to charter the flight that day gave me the belief that we could run an airline. 33 years later and Virgin Atlantic is still going strong.
Our previous Business is an Adventure outing in Seattle saw us focus on what it takes to scale a business, but this time around in Barbados it was the notion of leadership that took centre stage. It’s something that most entrepreneurs will need to get to grips with at some point or another. I see it as an honour and a pleasure to lead people effectively; seeing both your business and its people flourish can be a real thrill.
Alongside yours truly the Virgin Atlantic team were able to convene an expert panel of regional leaders, to help us explore the challenges and opportunities they regularly face. Dr. Juliette Skinner – Head of the Barbados Fertility Clinic, Scott Hilton-Clarke – CEO of Inspiration Labs, Dr. Eudiene Barriteau – Principal at the University of West Indies and Gervase Warner – Group CEO at Massy Holdings Ltd were all on hand to share their own unique insights. While two fellow Virgin leaders – DS Virgin Racing’s Team Principal Alex Tai and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean CEO Lisandra Rickards – were also on hand to offer some insight into the pros and cons of being a leader in the Virgin Group.
One of the most common questions I am asked is: “What do you look for in leaders at Virgin?” To many the answer might seem rather simple, but it’s a trait that so many people overlook. Qualities such as talent and drive are of course important, but 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.