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Innovation Assignment: Richard Branson and the Virgin Group

Giovanni Mirarchi EDUC5201 Diana Petrarca Monday, November 19, 2012

The Virgin Group is an international investment group led by Sir Richard Branson. As a youth, he had started a small record distribution store that evolved into the international corporation that we find today. Led by Branson, the Virgin Group has grown and become successful in many of different global ventures, including mobile telephone, travels and music. Branson has become one of the most iconic figures in the world (A & E Networks, 2012). He is a person that has displayed a number of leadership qualities that have helped him become one of the most recognizable figures in the world. The Virgin Group began as a single record store in 1971. Branson, a nineteen year old boy had just finished high school. He was a troubled student who was dyslexic and did not excel in school. No matter his schooling situation, he realized that his strengths were not in education. In 1973 he opened up Virgin Record Label and Virgin Publishing. His main difficulties were attracting big name artists to his relatively unknown label. It was Bransons personality, charisma, and flair for the dramatic that allowed him to sell his company to big name groups like the sex pistols (Virgin.com, 2012). Bransons main reason for continuing to branch out his company was his dissatisfaction with other peoples products. He sympathized with discontent consumers, and wanted to make that same discontent customer happy. (Virgin.com, 2012). Bransons ideology about business helped the Virgin Group flourish into the successful company it is today. Bransons key management idea is that Virgin Group companies are part of one big family rather than a hierarchy (virgin.com, 2012). His idea of a corporation doesnt include a centralized, hierarchical structure (Balmaekers, 2012). Each company has the ability to run their own day to day affairs, yet the companies actively help one another, and solutions to problems are often solved by working with sister companies within the group. His idea is that each one of

the individual companies under the Virgin Group umbrella is part of the same commonwealth or group. He has made sure that all of his companies have the opportunity to work together and share ideas, values, interest and goals (Ankeny, 2012). As an individual, Branson displays many different leadership qualities. First and foremost, Branson can be described as a transformational leader. Transformational leaders are seen as people who can motivate their employees to go beyond their self interests for the good of the organization. They help their employees see the vision or goal set out by the company, and can generate awareness and acceptance of this goal (Winkler, 2010). Den Hartog, Van Muijen, & Koopman (1996) state that transformational leaders have a transforming effect because they can define the need for change, create new vision, mobilize commitment to these visions, and transform the organization. Bransons work at the Virgin group has displayed these qualities. For example, Branson has shown that he entrusts the work to others within the business. Anytime that one of his companies gets too large, he takes the key management teams and allows them to branch off into smaller more manageable companies. He doesnt want the environment to be too overbearing or the employees to feel out of touch with the management. (Ankeny, 2012) When deciding to split a company, Branson displays qualities of a transactional leader. He promotes employees that he feels are dedicated in their current positions to higher management positions. The policy of promoting talented people from within the company inspires and encourages staff to work harder in the hope for being noticed and being a position of greater authority (Balmaeker, 2012). This is the principle behind transactional leadership, where employees are rewarded for the job that they do (Winkler, 2010). They are motivated by the potential of being rewarded in the future. While transactional leadership may be present in this

very particular situation, it does not seem the driving force for employees of the Virgin Group to work hard. Bransons own personal philosophy also corresponds to him being a transformational leader. In an interview with Fresh Young Millionaires, he suggests says that there are certain values that a leader must have. The first is that a good leader should be genuinely interested in the people that work for them and that they cater too, and want to see the best out of them. He also suggests that in order to be a good leader, you must build a great team that believe in what you are doing (Fresh young Millionaires, nd). It is this idea of having your workers believe in you that is truly supported by the idea of transformational leadership. Branson has the personal qualities that make his staff believe in him. One of the key traits that he possesses is his charisma, his ability to inspire through his words and actions. Winkler (2010) relates charisma as part of being a transformational leader. Branson definitely uses his charisma and personality as a tool to motivate his staff, and consumers. In the above interview, Branson also says that praising people will help them be the best that they can be, and that managers must make an effort to find a way to praise their employees, to help keep their spirits up, and keep them motivated to stay on course. When asked by the group bigthink to give tips to new entrepreneurs, Branson says the following about being a leader: A company is a group of people. As a leader of a group of people you must be a good listener, great motivator, be very good at praising and looking for the best in people so they flourish. (Bigthink, 2011). A leader must be a good listener, and be able to delegate tasks efficiency, while at the same time make sure that their workers understand and can achieve what you have asked them. These are all key components in transformational leadership.

Bransons leadership style has helped make the Virgin Group an iconic brand worldwide. He displays traits that make him a likeable, personable and fair employer. Branson believed that communication was the key to any successful venture. He is able to be an effective communicator, which correlates to his leadership ability. Barret (2006) says that in order to be a good leader, one must be able to communicate effectively. Branson fits into Barrets Leadership communication framework. He displays strengths in all three of her described areas: Core, Managerial and Corporate communication. His core communication skills are seen in his ability to speak to and motivate his employees. As a managerial communicator, he would always encourage feedback and communication from both his customers and employees. This allowed him to reflect, adjust and reorganize products, divisions, or anything that was out of place (Branson, 2011). Branson was not a leader who would punish every mistake; rather he used mistakes as part of the learning process. He felt that supporting people and helping them work through their mistakes would help them stay motivated to not make that mistake again (Ankey, 2012). He also allowed his employees to be creative and innovative, not restricting them to a set method of achieving their goal. An example of him being a corporate leader is that he would always provide the company with a positive energy and a goal which he wanted them to achieve. He would inspire his employees to understand the goal, and encourage them to work towards it. His philosophy was that success wasnt determined by what the business offered, rather on the culture which defined the employees working there. If workers had a common purpose and vision than the business is successful in his eyes (Balmaeker, 2012). His excellent communication skills allowed him to become the face of his company. His brands power and recognition came about because of his effective communication skills.

I believe that Branson can also be seen as an organizational leader that helped promote a positive and caring working culture. Den Hartog, Van Muijen, & Koopman, (1996) suggest that an organizational leader defines, constructs, and gain commitment to a set of shared values for all their employees. There are 3 themes present with an organizational leader: change, goals and people working together. Branson promoted a culture that was inclusive, and encouraged all people to be creative and use their skills and talents to help them achieve their goals (Baelmaeker, 2012). Cultural leadership emphasizes cultural innovation, and he provided all employees with a work environment that thrived on being innovative. Branson gets his employees motivated and pushes them to the limit. He has the ability to get the most out of his employees, enabling them to achieve something beyond their personal limits, capabilities and goals. Richards remarkable ability is to create energy around the goal he envisions. He instills a sense of confidence about his goals and visions which causes others to follow. (Balmaeker, 2012). Branson also shows organization leadership through the work culture that he has created. He cultured a working environment where people feel involved, important and part of a team (Ankeny, 2012). At Virgin America, and other Virgin Group companies, he has created the refresh program, where employees have daylong training and team building exercises that are mandatory for staff in all positions. It is an opportunity for them to come together, work together, and become included in the team (Ankeny, 2012). This shows how Branson has created a work environment that considers the individual workers as key components of the company. As Den Hartog, Van Muijen, & Koopman, (1996) would describe this type of organization leadership culture as a support orientation, where cooperation, participation, social, mutual trust and group cohesion are important aspects of the working culture.

The final aspect of Richard Bransons leadership is that he is an authentic leader. According to Bill George (2011), an authentic leader is someone who is genuine and true to what they believe in. They are leaders who build long term relationships, have personal discipline, and use their strengths to get results from their teams. They are also people who stay true to their beliefs. Branson is a man that has always followed his ambitions. He was never afraid to follow his dreams, and always kept true to his beliefs that his company could give customers a better service than was already out there. The Virgin Group has grown into one of the largest international companies because of their leader, Richard Branson. Over the years he has displayed a number of different leadership characteristics that have brought his company to the forefront of the international market. Bransons ability to take charge and follow his own beliefs has helped make him one of the most iconic figures in the world. He displays many different leadership abilities, and he utilizes each of those abilities to help maintain his company as one of the best in the world.

Works Cited A & E Networks. (2012). Richard Branson biography. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/richard-branson-9224520 Ankeny, J. (2012, June 19). Richard Branson on building an empire. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223639. Barret, D.J. (2006). Leadership Communication: A communication approach for senior level managers. Rive University. Retrieved from: https://uoit.blackboard.com/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_group=courses&url=%2Fw ebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Fcontent%2Ffile%3Fcmd%3Dview%26content_id %3D_321682_1%26course_id%3D_7099_1%26framesetWrapped%3Dtrue Balmaekers, H. (2012, Jun 01). Leadership skills of Richard Branson. Retrieved from http://young-leaders- academy.com/discover-yourself/leadership-secrets-of-richardbranson/ Bigthink. (2011, June 02). Richard Branson: Advice for Entrepreneurs. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH35Iz9veM0 Branson, R. (2011, October 07). True business leaders think differently. Retrieved from http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog/true-business-leaders-think-differently Den Hartog, D.Van Muijen, J., & Koopman, P. (1996). Linking transformational leadership and organizational culture. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 3(4), 68-83. doi:10.1177/107179199600300407 Fresh Young Millionaires. (n.d.). Richard Branson leadership principles. Retrieved from http://www.freshyoungmillionaire.com/richard-branson-leadership-principles/ George, B. (2007, May 02). The Authentic Leader. Retrieved from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5664.html Virgin.com. (2012). Virgin History. Retrieved from http://www.virgin.com/history Winkler, I. (2010). Contemporary Leadership Theories. Chapter 5: Neocharismatic Leadership. Retrieved from https://uoit.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/pid-320048-dt-content-rid573973_1/courses/20120942368.201209/week_5_CH5%20Management_Science_Conte mporary_Leadership_Theories_Enhancing_the_Understanding_of_the_Complexity_Subj ectivity_and_Dynamic_of_Leadership_51_to_51%5B1%5D.pdf