Lessons from Branson

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By Peter Switer

Nothing is achieved by a negative man. That’s the old and a bit sexist cliché, but I suspect negative women have the same achievement problems when they are programmed for negativity. These thoughts came to me after finally ‘losing my virginity’, succumbing to reading Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity book over a break.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to interview the guy and he was delightful.

When I interviewed Branson, I made the point that he had developed his own personal brand so strongly, that it nearly challenged Virgin’s own brand! He disagreed but I did suggest that Branson could be re-spelt as Brandson.

Develop your brand

In my various business speeches over the years, which cover the economy and what great business owners have used to grow their competitive advantage, I often talk to employees about developing their personal brand.

People such as Branson, chef Neil Perry and Aussie Home Loan’s John Symond are the kinds of people who have used their personality and their links to the media to bolster their businesses and their personal brand.

In the past Joyce Mayne did it, Poppy King tapped into it, as did Ita Buttrose. Janine Allis has also helped boost her Boost Juice business by her media activities.

Lateral thinking

Branson’s book says he didn’t have to be so public when he was driving Virgin Records, as he had press pulling power with rock stars such as Boy George, Phil Collins, Janet Jackson and Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame.

He knew he had to force himself onto the media when he got serious with Virgin Atlantic and he was up against British Airways, which was much bigger than Virgin – I think they had four planes at the time.

This was a lateral thinking response to the fact that he didn’t have the marketing budgets of his rival and so he created stories for the press. His Atlantic crossings in a powerboat and a hot air balloon to rewrite the records not only attracted press attention, it built the Virgin brand.

Follow the leader

On following his lead, he has doubts about teaching success, which I take issue with, but his view should be considered by anyone wanting to make 2009 a change year for the better.

“You cannot clearly define our business success and then bottle it as you would a perfume,” he said. “It’s not that simple: to be successful, you have to be out there, you have to hit the ground running; and, if you have a good team around you and more than your share of luck, you might make something happen. But you certainly can’t guarantee it by following someone else’s formula.”

In essence he is right, because luck plays a role, but I would argue that whether you were going to change yourself to create a great business, to build a wealth-building portfolio of assets or to build your personal brand to get promoted to a better paying job, then look to learn from the likes of Branson.

“I have always lived my life by making lists: lists of people, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen,” he said.

Apart from his passion for his business, which is something you can’t teach, he is one of the world’s greatest networkers. This is a skill that many business greats have mastered. It requires people to get out of their comfort zone, to ask for help from experts and to give.

Crucial advice

I was once advised by an expert networker that “givers get”, and it’s great advice for you to remember.

Another great piece of advice I received years ago was work out what you want, find out the price you have to pay for it and pay the price.

After finishing the book I concluded: “Losing your virginity is not a bad thing. It should be the start of something great!”

So make this year the year to challenge yourself. Find out what is holding you back and change – even if it costs you money by going to an expert dietitian, accountant, personal trainer, university or financial adviser. Just do it.


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