I picked this book up at Powell’s on January 1st, 2020. It was marked at a good price and considering my mind has been thinking about dreaming bigger lately, I bought it (along with Persuasive Business Proposals by Tom Sant, notes coming soon).
This is one of those books that is hard to finish. I expected a biography, but the tagline for the book (“Inside Richard Branson’s Business Empire”) is more accurate than I expected. Rather than going deep inside the mind of Richard Branson, the author instead writes mainly about the history behind the Virgin Group, what led to certain decisions, the players involved, etc. There’s little discussion about why decisions were made or how Richard Branson and his top staff think about the world.
The book is rather dated by now, being published in 1996, and contains a number of interesting aspects as a result (there’s a paragraph early on talking about Princess Diani in the present-tense, as she passed in 1997) as well as quite a lot of focus given to the early life of Virgin. That part makes some sense given the book’s timeframe: Virgin Group was founded in 1970, meaning this book discussed 26 years of the business. As of this writing, there’s now another 24 years of Virgin business after the book’s release.
Overall, my main takeaway from this book is that Richard Branson consistently made (makes?) very large bets on himself, his team, and the market. He doesn’t trouble himself with how much he personally knows about a given market, preferring to sell a big idea and find people who can execute it. The book is an enjoyable read, but not necessarily one you’ll learn much from.
Quotes & Excerpts
In the speeches that he is increasingly often asked to give, Branson is fond of pointing out that, although conventional business analysis puts the interest of a company’s shareholders first, followed by those of its customers and then its employees, he takes the opposite approach. For him, it is Virgin’s employees who take top priority, particularly those who deal face to face with members of the public. If they are happy in their work, he hopes, then they will perform well and in doing so will satisfy his customers. Branson believes that the interests of Virgin’s shareholders … can be safely left behinds on the assumption that a company that pleases its customers will prosper itself.
In media businesses–whether records, books, films, or magazines–the proprietor had to stay a little aloof from the prodict. Once he became too swept up in the creator’s enthusiam, his financier’s judgment was sure to suffer.