Richard Branson
Principles of Management BCD1H07

“Select a successful entrepreneur, and outline his management styles and leadership characteristics. Consider how these have contributed to success, and how they may contribute to failure.”

Richard Branson: “An entrepreneur is somebody who is willing to go where others are not. Who doesn\'t often listen to accountants. Who if somebody says [something is] impossible, is determined to prove them wrong”.

Pick up any newspaper or magazine and there’s a good chance you’ll come across a picture of Richard Branson sporting his irrepressible toothy grin and trademark wooly jumper. Airline owner, daredevil stunt man and entrepreneur extraordinaire, few businessmen have captured the public imagination as completely as the larger-than-life chairman of Virgin. The press have elevated him to the status of folk hero, reporting his hot-air balloon and speedboat exploits with relish and devoting endless column inches to each new business venture.

Branson’s earliest business venture was in fact as the publisher of a student magazine when he was still a 16 yr old school boy. However the real break came when, in a bid to raise more cash for the financially strapped magazine, he hit on the idea of selling discounted records by mail order. The initial advertisement produced a flood of responses and he was soon able to open his first Oxford Street record shop in 1971. The purchase of a recording studio in 1972 proved a huge success when the first album released – Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield – went on to sell five million copies. At the age of 23, Branson had made his first million. In the years since, artists, like Janet Jackson, Culture Club, the Human League, Phil Collins and Paula Abdul helped to turn the music division into one of the most successful record labels in the world. Branson later pulled off the deal of a lifetime when the sale of Virgin Music to Thorn EMI in 1992 netted the company a cool £560 million.

In the space of 25 years Branson has built a major entertainment empire with a turnover of £1.4 billion and 7,500 employees in 170 operating companies. Virgin interests around the world as they are now, consist of five holding companies: Travel, Retail, Communications, Hotels and investments. The two major divisions are Virgin Travel, and Virgin Retail. Virgin Travel is dominated by the airline Virgin Atlantic Airways, which started in 1984 and is now the second largest British long haul international airline operating a fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, Dallas, and Tokyo.

The airline was founded on the concept of offering competitive and high quality first class and economy services. It holds many major airline awards and recently earned "Airline of the Year Award" for the third consecutive year.

Virgin Retail is part of Virgin Group which has since expanded into international "Megastore" music retailing, books and software publishing, film and video editing facilities, and clubs and hotels throughout 100 companies in 15 countries.

So what are the management principles governing the company whose growth has been almost entirely self-generated, with only a handful of acquisitions and partnership deals?

Branson’s management philosophy rests squarely on the ‘small is beautiful’ principle put forward by the economist EF Schumacher. According to Schumacher, it is only when a large organization is broken down into many small autonomous units, that the proper balance between freedom, which promotes creativity, and order, which gets things done, can be maintained.

This is a democratic style of management, it encourages group members to set their own objectives and delegate authority wherever possible, with workers being seen as human beings who can be trusted. As Branson says, ‘Once people stop knowing the other people in the building, its time to break up a company into smaller units.

The ideal size is around 50 to 60 people. By keeping a company small, you give more people a chance.’

Branson’s management style results in the highest productivity, and thus his employees have the greatest feeling of involvement and job satisfaction, it provides good communication and relationships on all levels.

In line with this philosophy, the highly decentralized management structure that has evolved at Virgin is a classic example of ‘empowerment’, with managers being given the freedom to organise the day-to-day running of their companies as