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customer experience
Shaun Smith
  • By Shaun Smith
  • Oct 13 2008

Branson’s ‘to do’ list

Richard Branson has a new book out – "Business Stripped Bare, Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur"

A while ago. Branson was asked about strategy and said that he didn’t run his businesses by strategies. Instead, he keeps a ‘to do’ list, that he writes at the beginning of each day. Working his way through his ‘to do’ lists, cumulatively, pushes Virgin as a group in the direction he instinctively feels it should be taking.

If you open the hardback version of his book, there’s one of his to do lists, in his handwriting, photocopied into the inside cover of the book. It goes like this:

Things To Do

1. Ring Steve Fossett*
2. Letter for Airline Staff
3. Letter for Retail Staff
4. Book – Autobiog – see photos
5. Pictures from Zambia – show mum
6. Ring S. Africa re. Lottery
7. Job swaps. Unpaid leave. Do more for staff.
8. Rail and others. Write letters.
9. Rail. On-time figures last month. Get adverts prepared.
10. Virgin America – Ring David

And so it goes on, 22 items in all.

I love the way showing his mum his holiday pictures and ringing South Africa to see if he can run a national Lottery for them nestle next to each other.

Of his top three things to do that day, two were to do with communicating with his staff. The remains of Steve Fossett’s crashed airplane were found last week, so Branson’s number 1 to do for that day is poignant.

Hot off the press, here are three excerpts from the book that I think help explain how companies in the Virgin Group succeed in creating such a distinctive customer experience:

1. Branson on trusting people

“Inspire people to think like entrepreneurs, and whatever you do, treat them like adults. The hardest taskmaster of all is a person’s own conscience, so the more responsibility you give people, the better they will work for you.”

2. Learn from your mistakes

“One thing is certain in business. You and everyone around you will make mistakes. When you are pushing the boundaries this is inevitable—and it’s important to realize this. Even when things are running well, there is always the prospect of a new reality around the corner. Suddenly, all the good decisions you made last week are doing you untold damage. … Failure usually occurs when leaders avoid the reality of business. You have to trust the people around you to learn from their mistakes. Blame and recriminations are pointless.”

3. What works once may never work again: so, don’t just copy

“There are many ways to run a successful company. What works once may never work again. What everyone tells you never to do may just work, once. There are no rules. You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over, and it’s because you fall over that you learn to save yourself from falling over. It’s the greatest thrill in the world and it runs away screaming at the first sight of bullet points.”

Virgin is one of the few brands that have successfully ‘stretched’ from one industry to another. The reason it has been able to do this is that Richard Branson has developed very clear values for the brand and is passionate about being customer focused. The result is that customers trust the Virgin brand to give them good value and good service.

We found that the leaders of the Uncommon Practice companies surveyed for our book of the same name are profoundly customer-centric. Richard Branson told us; “Virgin loves to take industries and shake them up and make sure they’re never the same again. We’ve done it to the airline industry, we’ve done it to the financial services industry; we will do it to the rail industry”.

Who will do it in your industry?

Posted by
Shaun Smith
On behalf of
Smith + co