Ruth Blakemore

Learning from Branson - how working for Virgin inspired me to start my own business

I worked with Richard Branson for six years, in various capacities including marketing director for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Richard taught me a great deal about business and management and I still draw on his lessons today.

It was partly my experience of working with Richard that ignited my desire to buy Safe Solutions International Ltd in September 2005.

 
Branson’s style of leadership

Richard has a very simple and inspiring style of entrepreneurial leadership. He communicates a consistent and simple vision throughout the organisation.

He then investigates the finer details of delivery to the customer on a random basis. I remember a call from him asking why someone was manning Miami check-in without full uniform and as I recall, the mistake was never repeated.

Richard rarely concerned himself with anything in between his vision and the intricate details. He trusted us and allowed us to get on with it and this freedom made us act like it was our business too. That was his greatest skill of all.

In addition, Richard always made time for his staff. I spent two hours per week with Richard, discussing complaint letters and speaking directly with customers to resolve any problems within the business.

Successes and failures were always shared by the team. Often leaders pay lip service to the avoidance of personal blame. Richard has no time for accusations and if we had a problem or challenge, speed was of the essence and the team worked together.

Being myself

My only criticism of Richard’s leadership style would be how he handled people who he had lost trust in. He cold-shouldered them, ignored them and waited for them to disappear. He didn’t cope well with staff confrontation.

I prefer to feedback to employees directly to help them learn from their mistakes and move on.

I’ve definitely learnt from Richard and my other working experiences, but it’s been important to develop my own style of leadership too. For me, the basic principles of leadership are:

  • Develop a clear and consistent vision
  • Put yourself in the customers’ shoes – address complaints and don’t focus solely on profits
  • Deliver bad news quickly and directly – don’t expect people to guess that you’re dissatisfied and don’t ask anyone else to carry your messages

To find out more about Safe Solutions International Limited, visit www.safesolutions.co.uk

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