Understanding a Virgin: Richard Branson

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Understanding A Virgin:
Richard Branson

“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

`Our paper permits the reader to accomplish two goals: First, to understand the remarkable life and achievements of Richard Branson (Branson). Second, to impart to the reader several key traits and behaviors that permitted Branson’s entrepreneurial success. In short, through this case study, one learns about a great entrepreneur. More importantly, by learning about Richard Branson, we hope that the reader will engage in a process of further research – to include introspective considerations on what defines their own leadership style.

“My mother was determined to make us independent. When I was four years old, she stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home across the fields. I got hopelessly lost.”

Born on July 18, 1950 in Surrey, England, Branson was the son of an attorney (father) and flight attendant (mother). Branson, who suffers from dyslexia, dropped out of school at the age of 16 to start his first business venture, a youth-culture magazine called Student. See above picture courtesy of Time Magazine. Student was Branson’s first of many successful entrepreneurial ventures. Next, Branson founded Virgin, a mail order record company in an effort to help fund his student magazine. Based on the modest profits of Virgin, Branson was able to expand his business, adding storefront property for sales of records. Branson expanded Virgin into a recording studio that garnered significant profits from the acquisition of major artists such as the Rolling Stones, Culture Club, etc. Branson has constantly expanded his entrepreneurial efforts to include travel (Voyager Group), airlines (Virgin Atlantic), radio stations (Virgin Radio), a train company, a luxury game preserve, a mobile phone company, a space tourism company, etc. Today, Branson’s Virgin Group holds more than 200 companies in over 30 countries. See Appendix A. Apart from his entrepreneurial success, Branson is also known for his sporting achievements (hot-air balloon) and his humanitarian efforts (Elder Group). For his contribution to entrepreneurship, Branson has been knighted. Branson has a self-made fortune of approximately $2.5 billion. He owns two private islands. Branson is married and has two children. Branson is widely recognized for his entrepreneurial success. He has been on the cover of over 20 magazines.

“Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming.”

Clearly, Branson is a remarkable entrepreneur. His phenomenal success in business has been the study of countless academics. Although academic analyses of successful entrepreneurs (Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Vera Wang, etc.) are unable to form consensus on the traits that lead to success, several characteristics have been universally cited as crucial to avoid failure. Using Dave Lavinsky’s article, “Entrepreneurial Skills and Traits: Are You the Next Richard Branson?” as a springboard, the remainder of our paper analyzes Branson’s success in terms of the following four universally recognized skill sets necessary to avoid failure: leadership and vision, focus and execution, persistence and passion, and technical skills.

“I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator.”

To avoid failure, entrepreneurs must have a vision of where their company will be in the future. In our study of Branson, it was evident that Branson is superbly adroit at developing a vision and then successfully communicating his vision in a clear manner that motivates and garners strong loyalty within his employees, investors, and partners. Branson’s leadership style and vision started in his youth. At the age of 16, Branson had dropped out of school and had...
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