July 3rd, 2013 by Erik Rudin, VP Business Development
For all the lucky Cisco Live attendees who persevered through 5 days of content rich sessions and attended the locknote address, Sir Richard Branson treated us to a personal history of his business career. Many of the stories told are lessons for every corporation looking to maximize its market potential while satisfying your customers and employees at the same time. It’s clear that out of the 400 different Virgin brands, Sir Richard’s personal philosophy has impacted their corporate culture and ultimately defined the brand.
Millionaire or Prison?
Early on in his life, Sir Richard marched to his own beat. From exiting school early to pursue a burgeoning magazine business to starting an airline idea through selling seats on a rented plane to Puerto Rico, his passion has been on satisfying the customer. His teacher once told him that he would either become a millionaire or end up in prison. Branson built his reputation with being comfortable with being the underdog and putting flair and fun into every new business adventure. Most of his companies started out of frustration. With so many companies under the Virgin brand, there must have been a lot of frustration against the big conglomerates who lost their way with their customers. As he put it, “I would much rather be David, than Goliath”
Virgin recipe for success
Successful companies create a culture of innovation while still driving personality through their brand. How true that has become for each Virgin business. Value, Quality, Fun, and Innovation are all key tenants for the Virgin brand. They strive to use the latest technology and capture the youthful spirit. For many this is too risky, but for Virgin, it helps set them apart. Another interesting facet of Sir Richard’s businesses has been keeping the most successful companies small. This was accomplished by cutting the staff in half when certain success criteria were reached and using that talent pool to start the next adventure. It’s his love for the people that comes out during challenging times. For example, during 9/11, Virgin Airlines lost over 300 million dollars in one month. To keep the business afloat, they offered voluntary furloughs for staff that wanted to take time away from work. Upon returning to their jobs a year later, the business was again healthy and back on track.
The sky is not the limit
As Sir Richard put it, “the older and more experienced we are, the more you can afford to dream bigger and bigger.” His latest dream is the biggest yet: offering commercial space flights on Virgin Galatic. A 15 yr old vision to send paying customers (including his family) into space is coming to reality. After bringing together some of the best minds in space travel, they won the Xprize and started down the path of repeatable and safe trips into the outer atmosphere. For Branson, space is the greatest adventure of all time. This is coming from a man who was plucked from the ocean by helicopter 6 times. Survival has always been important as a human but also as a businessman. Perhaps he is just attracted to difficult things but according to him, “without bold risks, you won’t achieve anything.” To balance the constant drive for more, Sir Richard is also focused on philanthropy and using business as a force for good. Between the work on The Elders and the most recent group, B-Team, the focus is making the world a better place by uniting businesses to deal with major issues.
The candid interview with Sir Richard Branson at Cisco Live reminded me of the vision our co-founders had when they started ScienceLogic. The big, monolithic network management tools from the client-server era were not designed for the future compute and cloud architectures. Customers were in need of something more. So out of frustration and desire to address the customer’s needs, ScienceLogic was born out of the garage and boot strapped for multiple years as the product and staff grew. Branson’s final advice is to dream big, make goals and targets, otherwise life will drift on by. Before carrying Blair Christie, Cisco CMO, off the stage in grand fashion we were told to “work hard, don’t take yourself too seriously, make a difference, and maybe make a buck along the way.” How true.