Fast Company has published a short, but very insightful, piece with Richard Branson in the magazine's September issue....
The interview has picked up on the unique business perspective that led Sir Richard to stunning success with his Virgin Atlantic Airways, as well as a number of other global business ventures. The interview begins with Branson's musing about a comment the former head of American Airlines made when he first launched his Virgin airline 22 years ago:
"What does Richard Branson know about the airline business? He comes from the entertainment business."
In retrospect, of course, Branson has been proven right. He proved that giving the customer a better deal than his competitors, and doing it in an entertaining way, is a pathway to success. No one can argue that Virgin is a much-loved brand, and that it has made Branson a billionaire several times over.
The most provocative thing that emerges from Branson's vision is that every business decision he has ever made has been implemented as a result of his own needs and wants as a customer.
"The reason I went into business originally, was not because I thought that I could make a lot of money, but because the experiences I had personally with businesses were dire and I wanted to create an experience that I and my friends could enjoy."
Branson recalls subsequent business decisions he has made along the way to continue to improve the Virgin flight experience. Frustrated that he was stuck in his seat for an entire flight, prompted him to introduce stand-up bars in the airliners' cabins so that customers could get up and walk around.
A suggestion from a manicurist that he offer nail treatments and massages onboard prompted Branson to implement this idea, sans the usual prerequisite market research. A move that would be pooh-poohed by most business leaders!
Yet, this move has borne fruit. According to the Fast Company article, Virgin now has 700 therapists on staff.
Next, Branson thought customers might appreciate seatback video screens so that they could pick the movies they wanted to see instead of watching an in-flight movie that the airline had selected. It would have cost $8 million to retrofit them into Virgin's existing fleet, and the bank would not loan Branson the money to do it!
"We were able to borrow $2 billion to buy a new fleet of planes, but not $8 million for seatback videos!"
Obviously, the bank thought this was an ill-advised business move! Undaunted, when Branson ordered new 747s from Boeing, he ordered them with seatback videos.
These examples enable Branson to make some very strong points about business decision-making. He points out how difficult it is to think and act from the customer's perspective in corporate environments that prize cost-cutting and efficiency. The perception is that this puts more on the company bottom line.
But does it really? At a time when every major airline is cutting back on basic amenities and services, and one is very much like the next one–and almost all of them are losing money–Virgin Atlantic Airways is thriving as a $10 billion in sales per year airline.
Sir Richard Branson obviously understands the most basic premise of sound business practice and has made it his mission: if you focus on taking care of your customer, your business will grow and the profits will be there. Perhaps all of the MBA's and current CEOs of business can learn a thing or two from this 16-year-old high school drop-out from Great Britain. Repeat after me: "It's all about the customer. It's all about the customer. . ."
"Take a look at your business and ask yourself, 'Is this how I would want to be treated if I were the customer?"
-- Richard Branson
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