One Sentence Summary: A microscope into the fascinating and inspiring life of Richard Branson with major business themes on decentralized organizations, necessity of autonomy in any organization, not giving up control, never-forgetting profitability as a startup and protecting the down-side.
Favourite Chapter: Chapter 29
Below are notes I've taken while reading the book. This is not a comprehensive summary but thoughts and ideas I've found valuable. I recommend reading these notes after you've read the book first to compare our thoughts. I can't stop you if you don't want to so I guess you can use the below as an idea of what you may get out of the book yourself if you read it... though if it ain't clear it's cause you didn't listen to me.
"I have always thought rules were there to be broken..."
On being forced to watch school teams play sports "If 450-odd people watching matches spent that time in Buckingham cleaning windows, for instance, they would gain at least something more than 'watching others achieving something'."
Started "Student" magazine @ 15
"I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the role motive then I believe you are better off not doing it"
Lesson on not hedging but focusing. He killed off his student magazine to go all in on Virgin Mail Order. He also stayed focus on retaining core customers + staying disciplined throughout in running the business. Also cool to hear about living on a houseboat.
Importance of making the right hire and letting that hire do the magic. Branson constantly emphasizes the business's need to be profitable. A neat overview of the records business model in the 70s and the value of negotiating for proper cash cycles to keep the business afloat (i.e. paying rent later after record sales are in because 70% of record sales happen in first 2 weeks of release)
"I knew that it is only by being hold that you get anywhere. If you are a risk-taker, then the art is to protect the downside."
"The only other great truth we found was that, if we wanted a band enough, we had to sign them almost no matter how high the bidding went." A lesson on not getting too roped into the price because the value you see if different from the value others may see. There is something called "too high a price" but don't miss out because of an externally-relied interpretation of it.
"We still paid ourselves tiny wages.... and we reinvested all the money... in new artists and building up the company"
"I am continually trying to broaden the Group so we are not dependent on a narrow source of income, but I suspect this is more down to inquisitiveness and restlessness than sound financial sense." Intellectual curiosity and uncorrelated diversity go hand in hand.
"Business is a way of life"
"I rely far more on gut instincts than researching huge amounts of statistics..... I distrust numbers, which I feel can be twisted to prove anything." Branson may need less information to make decisions. I agree with him on trusting the neocortex and acknowledging the pre-frontal cortex is a rationalization machine. No extreme is right though.
Lessons on mediocrity resulting from acts to please the public to fit what works for the averages
No mistake is too permanent that you can't recover from it
Being greedy when others are fearful as Branson looks to buy out competitors when Mr. Market quotes bargain prices. Important to separate the business from the stock at times.
"One of the things that I am always trying to do with Virgin is make people reinvent themselves." Growth of a company starts with growth of its people"
Page 285 for history of the Gulf War, non-US version.
Japanese video game console, Sega, does materially better in Europe than it's home country Japan. Neat look into how different cultures value products differently and it's the businesses job to continue to focus on its strength areas to widen the moat.
Thoughts from the battle of Virgin vs. British Airways: every company commits fraud. It's just a matter of the degree of severity to which they commit it but blind naive trust from the public should not be the answer.
Never forget FUN. "Fun is t the core of the way I like to do business and it has been key to everything I've done from the outset."
"I can draw a straight line from that tiny shop to the Virgin Megastores in London, Paris and New York. It's just a matter of scale, but first you have to believe you can make it happen." A wonderful chapter on the real journey and the intangible "dips" and "obstacles" the lines won't show you.
"First and foremost, any business proposal has to sound fun. If there is a market that is served by two giant corporations, it appears to me that there's room for some healthy competition."
"I have always lived my life by thriving on opportunity and adventure."
"By nature I am curious about life, and this extends to my business."
"If there's a good business plan, limited downside, good people, and a good product, we'll go for it." Quite, the investment criteria.
"... every time one of our ventures gets too big we divide it up into smaller units." Decentralized operation with many business units that can operate in entrepreneurial nature. Very much like CSU.
"Once you have a great product, it is essential to protect its reputation with vigilance." Like Buffet says, it can take a lifetime to build up a reputation and an instant to lose it. Captivity needs to be invested for.
"Monopolies don't work in any industry whether public or private." This is true over the long-term. Moats will erode and it will be an oligopoly at best.
"For those of you who have not pent ten days in a tent with your father - if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to do so - I can thoroughly recommend it in every way." Bucket list item.
"..... made me realist just how slim the line is between genius and insanity and between determination and stubbornness."
If you want to accomplish world-changing things for a large group of people it is better to be a private enterprise/business owner than be in any political office/government
"If you're going to have to operate trains for twenty years you never know what the price of energy is going to be in the future, and you have to plan for more expensive energy" Downside protection.
"At the outset, each of those individual ventures was a step into the unknown for the company - a bit like the loss of one's virginity. But unlike really losing your virginity, in whatever world you make for yourself, you can keep embracing the new and the different over and over again."