I had never been interested in being “in business”. I’ve been interested in creating things.
Although the combined Virgin Group is the largest group of private companies in Europe, each individual company is generally relatively small in its sector. And so we have the advantage of being the nimble ‘underdog’ player in most markets.
The first law of entrepreneurial business: there is no reverse gear. No one in business can unmake anything, any more than a band can unmake a song.
The Virgin brand is about irreverence and cheek. It values plain speaking. It is not miserly, or mercenary. It has a newcomer’s voice – and in a world of constant technical innovation, the voice of a company that’s coming fresh to things is a voice people find oddly reassuring. It’s a brand that says, ‘We’re in this together.’
Don’t waste your precious time. Phone calls and emails can eat your day. Don’t let them. No one will think less of you for getting to the point. Because there are so many calls to make every day, I generally keep them very brief. And a short note to somebody is often quicker than a phone call. As the business has got bigger and spread across the globe, a lot is dealt with by short notes.
Engage your emotions at work. Your instincts and emotions are there to help you. They are there to make things easier. For me, business is a ‘gut feeling’, and if it ever ceased to be so, I think I would give it up tomorrow. By ‘gut feeling’, I mean that I believe I’ve developed a natural aptitude, tempered by huge amounts of experience, that tends to point me in the right direction.
Creative, responsive, flexible business comes easier to you the smaller your operation.
Even in a big business like the Virgin Group, I sit down now and again and sign every single cheque that goes out, and I ask my managing directors to do the same. For a month. Sign everything for a month every six months and suddenly you’re asking: ‘What on earth is this for?’ You’ll be able to cut out unnecessary expenditure quite dramatically when you do that.
As a small-business person, you must immerse yourself 100 per cent in everything and learn about the ins and outs of every single department. As you get bigger, you will be able to delegate, and when people come to you with their problems, they’ll be surprised how knowledgeable you are and how much practical advice you can offer.
The reason you’re knowledgeable is because in the early days of the business, you learned all about it.
This is how business leadership is achieved. There are no short cuts.
Money’s only interesting for what it lets you do.