Entrepreneur Richard Branson gave a keynote presentation this week at the Adobe Summit, a digital marketing conference, in which he made a serious case for why Americans need more vacation time.
By Jane Burnett
The “self-made” billionaire mogul and founder of investment and marketing company Virgin Group reportedly “has stakes in more than 400 companies in 34 countries” across a variety of industries. Here are a few takeaways from his address.
On Virgin’s flexible policies:
“You know, we also have some things which I think, that we do at Virgin which most companies don’t do, and which I would really recommend they did. So, we’ll give people unlimited paid leave. So somebody wants to go off for a month and travel the world, they can do it. They don’t have to ask permission,” Branson said.
“But they’ll work that much harder when they get back, and the company has not suffered from introducing this. If somebody wants to work from home, they can. If somebody wants to work from home on Fridays and Mondays, they can — and actually, they get more work done without having all the time of commuting to and from the office by doing that,” he added. “So, I think treating people with flexibility, treating people as humans, treating people as you’d treat your own children, comes back to the company many times over.”
On advice he recently gave to someone:
Branson mentions that a few nights before the presentation, he met a father at the bar who was trying to figure out “what to do in life.” The mogul asked him if he had kids. He said he had two, is married, and part of “a very happy family.” Branson said he could sense that the man was considering leaving his job and that the man probably thought he would recommend that he go the entrepreneurial route.
While Branson said that if the man has a concept that would improve the lives of others, he should pursue it, but he continued, “What I actually said to him was: ‘Do you enjoy the people you work with at work?’ And he said yes, he really loved those people. ‘Do you enjoy your work?’ ‘Yes.’ … But, what I did say to him was: ‘Go to your company boss and try and get them to change some of the policies to give you a bit more flexibility so you don’t feel restricted to two or three weeks, holidays a year,’ which I think this American, really-short holiday system is cruel.
Branson added: “It’s not a good way of fathers spending time with their children, mothers spending time with their children, and it’s not good for the business. You know, just because somebody’s sitting at the desk all day long does not mean they’re working all day long. People can work in three or four days [and] most likely can get all their work done. So, more flexibility — they will be much more loyal … and they won’t be necessarily asking the question, ‘should I leave this company and go do something else?’ ”
On what Virgin looks for:
“The most important attribute to a person, whether they’re running other people, or whether they’re being run by other people is …to be wonderful at basic things like kindness. Basic things like looking for the best in other people. Basic things like listening all the time, not just hearing yourself speak,” Branson said.
“So, if you are in a position of power in a company, and somebody says, ‘You know, there’s a problem at home or something,’ … immediately tell them, ‘Take a couple of weeks off, you know, go sort it out and get your priorities and life right.’ So, that’s the kind of people we look for,” he added.
On the importance of attention to detail and listening:
After mentioning the ways Virgin changed the airline industry, Branson explained what he does to continue moving forward.”
When making experiences, attention to detail matters. To this day, I keep a notebook in my pocket whenever I board a flight. I get out and I listen to passengers, I listen to cabin staff, and I write these thoughts and experiences down, and then action them the next day because these thoughts and experiences are invaluable, and they help us keep air travel fun, friendly and entertaining,” Branson said.
“Frequently taking note of these seemingly little things has become one of the keys to our success. As expectations change, experiences must evolve too. So, as a leader, or really, whatever you were doing in life, always be a good listener,” he advised. “Always strive to create a different and better experience than anyone else. Never rest on your laurels. We try to live on these principles in every single business we run: in our airlines, in our hotels, in our trains, in our gyms, and so on.”
On what you can learn from life’s experiences
“What holds true in business and advocacy, has also been true in my personal life. And I think the most important lessons I’ve learned that haven’t come from the books I’ve read, that haven’t come from the formulas I’ve memorized, that haven’t come what I call … No. They have come from what I call the school of life. And the school of life is definitely the best experience there is,” Branson said.