Top 3 Tips from Sir Richard Branson

During a 90 minute Q&A session at Richard’s house on the first morning, I asked “How do you keep things ‘fun’ and not get overwhelmed by all the challenges and the complexity of it all.” To which Maxine chimed in “Yes, David just gets so ‘Grrrrh!’” And everyone laughed. There followed a lovely interaction about ‘Grrrrh’. I was so proud of Maxine.

Richard’s answer? Well, there have been plenty of times when he has felt ‘Grrrrh!’ He absolutely relates to that. The key, he says, is delegation.

1. Delegation

As business owners we’ve all read about delegation and think we already do it. But it was radically different seeing Richard model ‘delegation’ over five days. It means (for him) a business empire running effectively while he’s kitesurfing in the Caribbean with an attractive woman on his back dressed as cat-woman. More on that below.

Richard believes all CEOs should find someone better than them to run their business so they can think about the future. The ideal candidate is a people-person; someone who genuinely likes people, is good at listening and acts on their listening, is good at praising people and almost never criticises people. He likes to recruit internally where possible. So, that’s the secret! 400 businesses and 50,000 employees later … Richard is all about people, which shows in the incredible staff working at Necker.

All of us left Necker thinking MUCH bigger about what’s possible for us as entrepreneurs. For a start, I never dreamed until a few days before our trip that I would one day have the opportunity to pitch an idea to Richard Branson. But that’s what happened.

2. Health

If you’re like me, you try to fit exercise in between work, family and friends but spend several hours per day sitting at a computer or in meetings. Before the trip I had begun to accept my body is succumbing to age and there isn’t much I can do about it. No more. After two days at Necker – and without hectic exercise – I felt loose and fit again; aches and pains gone.

Again Richard was a role model, making time for water-sports, tennis, paddle-boarding around the island and lots of dancing – usually on a table.

One change I’m making is getting a ‘standing desk’ for my new office, that will allow me to alternate between working sitting and standing. In future, all Skype meetings will be done standing – with an option on dancing.

3. Fun

‘Fun’ is an explicit Core Value in my businesses that we talk about in meetings. But Richard takes it to a whole new level. He had us wearing fancy dress every night, climbing stripper-poles and doing cartwheels on tables still covered with glasses and crockery. Richard usually led the fun. If he was having lunch with you right now, he might be flicking water at people across the table. He loves the ladies and flirts outrageously, although he never lets things get out of hand.

There was a famous incident in 2009 when Richard kite-surfed with naked model Denni Parkinson on his back. On our trip, one lady asked if he would kite surf with her on his back. “Oh certainly, but we do have one rule” replied Richard. And after some negotiation she agreed to go dressed as cat-woman. He subsequently signed her book “I loved getting you up.”

The surprise is that Richard’s version of fun turns out to be a highly effective form of leadership. It breaks the ice and makes Richard very approachable and human. People want to be part of his world and will knock themselves out to come through for him and not let him down.

For example, if the project I pitched comes to fruition, I’ll bust a gut to make sure it works. There’s no way I’d let him down. The upshot: Richard spent 15 minutes of his time in total – four minutes listening to my pitch, 10 minutes following-up (pictured at the top of this post) then passed me to the right person at Virgin – and literally thousands of man-hours will be spent bringing a project to life that he wants to see in the world. That’s a highly leveraged use of his time. Suddenly you can see how 400 successful businesses can get started while Richard is ‘just having fun’.

Summing up

I get asked – is Richard a nice guy? Well, he’s a wonderful fun-loving man who loves people, takes on huge challenges and wants good things to happen in the world. He’s also extremely academically intelligent and I think quite legacy-focused now. But ‘a nice guy’ implies he is bland, whereas Richard is anything but.