Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Sir Richard Branson has fallen into that dangerous media category also occupiedby the likes of Robbie Williams, Chris Tarrant and Tony Blair – theover-exposed. One day they were all the darlings of the media, up on a pedestal; the next,they were over-exposed and heading earthwards. It can be a simple trigger – onesong too many about yourself, another contrived pause for the audience, or thatlast insincere promise. The press may have tired of them, but that doesn’t mean they have becomeunpopular with the important people – the public. Their songs still get tonumber one, they still attract huge TV ratings and still live in DowningStreet. And they still inspire, entertain or lead large numbers of people. Despite Richard Branson’s love affair with the press being over, he hasdelivered all three of these things for more than 30 years, and the people lovehim. Whenever there is a poll for a hypothetical leader, Branson always wins –if the public had had their way, he would be the Mayor of London and theDemocratic Republic of Britain’s head of state. Branson may have pulled one publicity stunt too many (surely it was a crimeagainst humanity for him to don a wedding dress for the launch of VirginBride), but I challenge you to name a better British business leader. In fact,just try naming 10 British business leaders, good or bad. In a square mile ofgrey suits, Branson is a noisy maverick, a bit of fun. But does being exuberant and fun make him the Greatest Briton in Managementand Leadership? To win this title – and I am confident he will win – I have toprove three things. First, that he is a great businessman; second, a greatleader and, finally, a great Briton. His business record is no joke. While he claims to have only recently workedout the difference between net and gross, the 53-year-old has created abusiness empire of more than 270 branded companies. He is personally worth acool £1bn. While many have accused him of being a lucky chancer, this could not befurther from the truth. Branson does take chances, but he manages the riskcarefully. Look at his launches into the cola and mobile phones markets. In hiswar with the Coke giants, Branson ensured that the costs of producing VirginCola were negligible, so his risk only relates to the size of the marketingbudget. In the mobile phones market, the expensive part is setting up andmaintaining the communication network. But Branson hooked up with T-Mobile anduses its network, cutting overheads and allowing it to deliver better value tothe customer. This sort of opportunism, and his habitual re-investment in hisbusinesses, has led to the Virgin Group having an annual turnover of £3.5bn. But is he a great leader? People work for Virgin because they want to workfor Branson. He has imbued all of his companies with his enthusiasm, andconsequently, Virgin constantly vies with the BBC and the Foreign Office forthe top spot in graduates’ employer wish lists. Mike Broad is assistant editor of Personnel Today”Convention dictates that a company should look after its shareholdersfirst, its customers next and last of all worry about its employees,” saysBranson. “Virgin does the opposite. For us employees matter most. It justseems common sense to me that if you start with a happy, well-motivatedworkforce, you’re much more likely to have happy customers. In due course theresulting profits will make your shareholders happy.” A great Briton? Undoubtedly. We love an underdog, and Branson alwayspositions himself as the little man. He took on British Airways over their‘dirty tricks’ campaign and had his day in court. OK, he was less successful attaking on the ‘fat cats’ of Camelot – but he still received great publicsupport. “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparentlyunachievable challenges, and trying to rise above them,” he says. We also love a self-made man. Branson doesn’t have an Oxbridge degree, or arich daddy. He is one of us (despite owning a Caribbean island). There have also been the big gestures. He flew to Baghdad to rescue the‘human shield’ prior to the Gulf War, and bid to run the National Lotteryfranchise on a not-for-profit basis. But he is no saint. He had an early run-in with the authorities over musicbootlegging, and more recently journalists made a lot of the offshore financingof his businesses to reduce his tax liabilities. While legal, it is hardly thework of a great philanthropist. In contrast, Bill Gates is spending his timecreating the world’s largest charity. But surely this just adds to Branson’s charisma; he’s a scruffy,balloon-flying maverick, who gets his kicks from challenging the establishedorder and creating businesses that he can be proud of. He doesn’t have a highercalling, but who cares? The 35,000 employees who have helped him create one ofthe world’s leading brands certainly don’t. “Some people say that my vision for Virgin breaks all the rules and istoo wildly kaleidoscopic; others analyse it down to the last degree and thenwrite academic papers on it. As for me, I just pick up the phone and get onwith it,” he says. Gates may be a great philanthropist, and one of the few businessmen with apersonal and corporate brand as strong as Branson’s, but who would you ratherhave lunch with? And, more importantly, who would you rather work for? Branson’s CV1950 Branson is born in Surrey1968 After leaving school with few qualifications, Branson launches Studentmagazine1971 Opens first Virgin record shop in London1973 Virgin record label is launched and releases Mike Oldfield’s TubularBells1984 Takes to the air with Virgin Atlantic1993 Wins libel action against British Airways2000 Fails in bid to run National Lottery2001 Significant expansion of Virgin companies, including Atlantic, Mobile,Money and ActiveMake your vote countHere’s a reminder of the nominees Geoffrey De Havilland Nominated by Linda Holbeche,director of research at Roffey ParkGeoffrey de Havilland was a pioneering pilot and led theaviation industry. He designed, tested and built planes that were vital to ourcountry’s success in the Second World War, such as the Mosquito fighter-bomber.He was a bold risk-taker, but treated his staff fairly. He ensured good workingconditions in his factories, trail-blazed sponsored apprenticeships, and wenton to launch the first commercial jet liner. Ernest BevinNominated by Brendan Barber,general secretary elect of the TUCDespite being the illegitimate seventh child of an impoverisheddomestic worker, Ernest Bevin rose to sit alongside Winston Churchill in theWar Cabinet. A manual worker until the age of 30, he rose rapidly through theunion ranks, working ceaselessly to deliver better living standards forworkers. In later life, he became foreign secretary and helped create thesettlement that led to Britain’s withdrawal from the Empire.Alexander Graham BellNominated by Paul Pagliari, HRdirector of Scottish WaterAlexander Graham Bell had a visionary understanding of thepower and potential of communication. On 7 March 1876, Bell patented thetelephone at the tender age of 29 – six years after immigrating to America. Heshrank the world and started the information revolution that continues in ourworkplaces today. He helped establish the Bell Telephone Company, and lobbiedvociferously for the education of deaf people.Mike Brearley Nominated by Tim Yeo, Shadow Secretaryof State for Trade and IndustryMike Brearley was one of the finest England cricket captainsever. He led the team in 31 test matches, winning 18 and losing only four. Hewas an inspired leader and motivator, and will be remembered for bringing homethe Ashes in 1981 – overcoming seemingly impossible odds. Following hiscricketing retirement, Brearley wrote a definitive work on leadership entitledThe Art of Captaincy.John ReithNominated by Will Hutton, chiefexecutive of The Work FoundationThe greatest test of leadership is an organisation’s ability toprosper over time. John Reith achieved this as the first director general ofthe BBC. Unlike so many organisations in the UK, the BBC works. Its strongreputation for creativity and professionalism has created extraordinaryloyalty. The BBC informs, educates and entertains as part of its duty to thepublic – and it was Reith who unwaveringly insisted on this ethic.Anita RoddickNominated by Max McKeown, leadingmanagement authorAnita Roddick created a $1bn, top 50 brand in The Body Shop,and yet profit was never her motive. She wanted to create an organisation thatdelivered more than shareholder value – one that brought ethics into business,inspired women, and gave its staff the best working conditions and benefits.Roddick stood down from the board last year, promising to campaign for humanrights in the future. Jack Jones Nominated by Stephen Bubb, chiefexecutive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary OrganisationsIn the 1970s, the press claimed that Jack Jones – then generalsecretary of the T&G union – ran the country. He brokered the pioneering‘social contract’ between the Government, industry and the unions, which sawthe unions restrain pay claims for the good of the economy. He also forged theidea of ‘industrial democracy’, which led to employees being treated asstakeholders.Adrian CadburyNominated by Geoff Armstrong,director general of the CIPDSir Adrian Cadbury led his family firm towards being a globalplayer – as Cadbury Schweppes – and pioneered business thinking on managementethics, governance and social responsibility. He articulated the valuesunderpinning progressive people management, and showed practices could bedesigned to draw the best from employees. He led the seminal review ofcorporate governance in the 1990s that bears his name.Ernest ShackletonNominated by Ruth Spellman, chiefexecutive, Investors in PeopleLeadership in the 20th century was typically hierarchical, butErnest Shackleton led by example. Despite all three of his polar missionsending in failure, he brought every member of his party back safely, againstthe odds. He offers a tangible role model not based on modern managementtheory, but on real-life experience. Through his experiences, we realise theimportance of building teams and recognising the strength of individuals.Richard BransonNominated by Mike Broad, assistanteditor, Personnel TodaySir Richard Branson has entertained and inspired his staff andthe public for more than 30 years. He has risen from running a strugglingstudent magazine in a basement flat to driving a global brand that turns over£3.5bn. His companies – which employ 35,000 people – are all imbued with hisvalues of opportunism and fun, and Virgin Group has become the pre-eminentemployer of choice. The greatest briton: Richard Branson by Mike BroadOn 18 Feb 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.