The Cutting Edge: Virgin

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Virgin Group, perhaps better known as simply Virgin, is a collection of over 400 diverse companies, owned and operated by Sir Richard Branson, the company’s eccentric leader (Wachman). The organizations he owns are setup through a maze of overseas holding groups and complicated offshore trusts. Branson often does not fully own many of the companies, participating in the holdings with other major shareholders. Many companies were purchased as subsidiaries, and hold licenses for the brand. Among these licensees are Virgin Music, Virgin Radio, Virgin Mobile Australia and Virgin Mobile USA. Consequently, Branson receives fees which can be valued at millions. He excels in his ability to scope out gaps in the market and as a result he develops the initiatives, while delegating the details and the numbers crunching to his army of focused operational and financial wizards. Revenues from Virgin branded properties were as high as $16.9 billion in 2011 (Wachman).

Richard Branson from Dyslexia to Billionaire

Branson was born in Surrey, England in 1950 (“Richard Branson”). He suffered from dyslexia and as a result, had a difficult time in school. Branson dropped out of school at 16, and launched a magazine in 1966 for young people called Student. He was able to raise $8,000 in advertising revenue for the maiden edition, so he handed out the initial run of magazines for free. In 1969, Branson thought of having a mail order record company, to fund his magazine. He named the record company Virgin. The company was fairly successful, but brought in enough money to help with his expansion plans. So Branson opened a successful music shop in London, which allowed him to branch out even further. So, in 1972, he built a recording studio in Oxfordshire. The first artist he brought onboard his Virgin Records label was Mike Oldfield. Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells in 1973, and became an instant hit. The hit song remained on the UK music charts for 247 weeks. Other recording artists came knocking, and Branson signed such groups as the Sex Pistols, Genesis, Culture Club and the Rolling Stones. Virgin emerged as one of the major recording enterprises worldwide (“Richard Branson”).  

Not one to rest on his laurels, Branson grew his organization even further (“Richard Branson”). He added a travel company, Virgin Atlantic an airline company, and built a series of Virgin Megastores, which flourished through 1992. Yet, the company began to struggle with financial problems that same year, so Branson sold the company to Thorn EMI for $1 billion. Branson was devastated by the sale of his beloved Virgin Records, though he stayed in the music industry by starting Virgin Radio, in 1993, and later founding V2, his second record company, in 1996. His artist roster includes Tom Jones and Powder Finger  (“Richard Branson”). 

Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains, founded in 1997, is a rail operating company in the UK ("Virgin Trains Fact Sheet - March 2009"). The company offers long distance passenger service and interconnects with major metropolitan hubs in the United Kingdom, including London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. The company is owned 51% by Virgin Rail Group and 49% by Stagecoach. The trains are operated by franchise, and Virgin and other interested parties, must place bids with the Department for Transportation to continue operations ("Virgin Trains Fact Sheet - March 2009"). Virgin is currently franchised to operate the train through 2018. 

Virgin Radio

Virgin Radio founded in 2001, is an incredibly successful music radio enterprise ("About Virgin Radio International”). The company broadcasts in a variety of languages and numerous musical formats in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The radio complex has over 23 million avid listeners globally, for example Virgin Radio – Dubai, Virgin Radio – Jakarta, and Virgin Radio – Toronto. The stations are independently owned and operated, and are independent of one another. Each station focuses on entertainment that is relevant to the local community of which it is a part ("About Virgin Radio International”).

Virgin V2

Branson’s record company V2 acquired numerous record companies, like Blue Dog Records and Gee Street Records (Fildes). The company also distributed labels. Over time the company had a roster of over 120 artists, including the Black Crowes, Doug E. Fresh, and Moby. V2 North America was sold to Sheridan Square Entertainment LLC in 2006 (Fildes). 

Virgin Galactic

Adding to the depth of versatility engaged in by Richard Branson is perhaps his most epic enterprise, Virgin Galactic, a spaceship company (“Richard Branson”). Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 (Jivinda). The company is creating commercial spaceships with the goal of providing tourists suborbital spaceflights. In addition to providing this excitement for space aficionados, Branson is also engaging flights for space exploratory science missions. Not one to keep a narrow perspective in any of his pursuits, Branson will also develop small satellite orbital flights and orbital space travel that involves human transport as well. The company has designed a suborbital spaceship launched by way of a carrier airplane, called SpaceShipTwo, and is in development of an orbital launch vehicle, which will be an air launch to orbit rocket, called LauncherOne. Numerous celebrities have already made their initial deposit to become passengers on the tourist flight, including Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Ashton Kutcher. Tickets prices for the maiden tourist voyage were raised from $200,000 per person to $250,000 per rider. Sadly, in 2014, SpaceShipTwo was lost in the Mojave Desert during a powered test flight, with one pilot killed and another pilot who parachuted to safety (Jivinda).   

Virgin/ Boom

Boom is a startup company located in Colorodo (Kokalitcheva). The company is in the process of developing an affordable supersonic plane, that is much faster than commercial planes on the market. Boom has been earning its stripes through participation in Y Combinator, a seed investment accelerator program that whips burgeoning companies into shape in their developmental stages. The company has signed a deal with Virgin Galactic taking an option on the company’s first ten planes and offering assistance with manufacturing and testing (Kokalitcheva).  

Richard Branson on Leadership

Richard Branson had some fundamental ideas on leadership (Bradt). He referred to it as The Virgin Way, also the name of a book he wrote. He felt that leadership was about inspiring the people who work for you to do the best job they can for the common good. Branson had a number of basic ideas that were transformative in his businesses. He said, 

Listen, take lots of notes and keep setting new challenges. Turn off that laptop and iPhone and get your derrière out there. Make a positive difference and do some good. Do what you love and have a couch in the kitchen. Follow your dreams and just do it. Believe in your ideas and be the best. Communicate, collaborate and communicate some more. Have fun and look after your team. Don’t give up. Delegate and spend more time with your family (Bradt).

Listen, take lots of notes and keep setting new challenges (Bradt). Branson believed that you can learn a lot more about your business by simply listening. Leaders should be listening to the customer, listening to their employees and listening to their managers. A leader may not be able to change everything immediately, but kernels of their next success will come from the things they learn from those around them.

Turn off that laptop and iPhone and get your derrière out there (Bradt). Branson felt that executive spend too much time on their computers and other technological devices, but feels that the best way to learn the things you need to know is to make sure that you are out on the playing field, possibly much more often than you are locked in your office with the window facing Fifth Avenue.

Make a positive difference and do some good (Bradt). Part of being a leader is moving the enterprise to greater heights, but while you are driving the business, you should make certain that you do good things for others, not only those who work for you and your customers, but for those in the community, as well. Making a difference, like Martin Luther King said, is the reason that we were all placed on this earth.

Do what you love and have a couch in the kitchen (Bradt). An odd expression, at best, but what Branson meant was that we should do good in the community by utilizing the things that you are passionate about. You can always do good and you can always do it better, once it has been done.

Follow your dreams and just do it (Bradt). Branson believes that every passionate dream that you have, you should write down and then execute it. It may be risky, it may not work out immediately, but if it is your passion, then you should take action and just do it. There is no better example of this tenet than Branson’s Virgin Galactic. From magazines to record companies, to outer space, Branson is the perfect archetype of the doctrine follow your dreams and just do it (Bradt).It is difficult to find another entrepreneur quite so paradigmatic. 

Believe in your ideas and be the best (Bradt). Branson feels that you should hold true to your ideas and make sure that you implement them with the highest standards possible. No mediocrity allowed, you should simply go for the gold and settle for nothing less.

Communicate, collaborate and communicate some more (Bradt). The most important skills in business, the ones that all great leaders execute are quality communication, collaboration, and even more communication. Branson feels that what makes a great leader is a person who can translate the complex into its simplest terms. Terms that everyone can understand and consummate. Taking the concept a step further, all executives, managers, professionals and staff should communicate, collaborate and communicate more, also. The three Cs are central to the success of any business. 

Have fun and look after your team (Bradt). Your team is the people who make things happen in any enterprise. You must always acknowledge them and care about them in ways that they can appreciate and see. The company’s corporate culture must be authentic, exciting and something that people want to be a part of. Service should also be the focus, as well as succeeding. Employees must be ““valued, empowered and trusted” so they can “go out and make amazing things happen.”” Investing in your team is investing in your business.

Don’t give up (Bradt). Persistence is the unrelenting drive to get something that is not quite working as you hoped, to work exactly as you intended. There are many ways to accomplish a goal, and it should never be abandoned until all possible options have been implemented.

Delegate and spend more time with your family (Bradt). You hire people to complete various tasks, let them do their job. Let them know that you are there, but let them do their job, and remember that family is job one. You can never see your baby take her first step once the step has been taken.

Richard Branson has certainly lived his credo. No one can say that he has not lived his dreams and simply did whatever was on his mind. He is also an example for those who share his learning disability (and actually for all of us) that taking action is what separates the successful from those locked by fear.

Works Cited

"About Virgin Radio International." Virgin Radio. Virgin Group.  n. d. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://www.virginradio.com/about>.

Bradt, George. "The Virgin Way - Insights Into Richard Branson's Leadership." Forbes. Forbes, Inc. 27 august 2014. Web. 6 August 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2014/08/27/the-virgin-way-insights-into-richard-bransons-brave-leadership/#f7d185065db4>.

Fildes, Nic. "Virgin sells record label V2." Independent. Independent Digital News & Media. 15 May 2006. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/virgin-sells-record-label-v2-478438.html>.

Jivanda, Tomas. "Virgin Galactic spaceline launches third successful test flight to reach record heights." Independent. Independent Digital News & Media. 12 January 2014. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/virgin-galactic-spaceline-launches-third-successful-test-flight-to-reach-record-heights-9054364.html>.

Kokalitcheva, Kia. "This Startup Is Developing Supersonic Planes for Virgin Group." Fortune. Time, Inc. 23 March 2016. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://fortune.com/2016/03/23/boom-supersonic-virgin-deal/>.

"Richard Branson." Biography. A&E Television Networks, LLC. n. d. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://www.biography.com/people/richard-branson-9224520>.

"Social Responsibility." Virgin Trains. Virgin Group.  n. d. Web. 7 August 2016. <https://www.virgintrains.co.uk/about/social-responsibility>.

"Virgin Trains Fact Sheet - March 2009." Stagecoach. Press Office Virgin Trains. March 2009. Web. 7 August 2016. <http://www.stagecoach.com/~/media/Files/S/Stagecoach-Group/Attachments/media/publication-corporate-information/virgin-trains-fs09.pdf>.

Wachman, Richard. "Virgin brands: What does Richard Branson really own?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 7 January 2012. Web. 7 August 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jan/08/virgin-brands-richard-branson-owns>.