My Notes From: Business Stripped Bare

My notes from Sir Richard Branson’s book:
Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur


  • The best Virgin manager is someone who cares about people and who is genuinely interested and wants to bring out the best in them.
  • A boss who is willing to party with all of their people – and pay attention to their personal concerns – has the makings of a great leader.
  • When I work with people, I really want to get to know them personally. I want to meet their families, their children, I want to know their weaknesses and their strengths, and above all I want them to know mine.
  • Across the whole Virgin Group, we encourage people to take ownership of the issues that they confront in their working lives. Why? Because it’s their business; and extension of their personality. They have a stake in its success.
  • It’s difficult to change someone’s attitude – so hire for attitude and train for skill!
  • We have disciplined people right across our Virgin businesses. After all, if you’re going to let people get on with and even develop their jobs, you need people you can trust.
  • Remembering who you are: it’s the biggest challenge an expanding business ever has to face.
  • Employees are number one. The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.
  • Have fun at work. Take the competition seriously, but not yourself.
  • If your business has ossified to the point where you haven’t a clue what’s wrong, and it desperation you’ve called in a bunch of management consultants who charge by the hour, then, let’s face it, you troubles began some while ago.
  • All you can do is hire the right people and empower them to sort things out as they happen.
  • “Entrepreneurs have literally destroyed poverty in the Western world as the rest of the world knows it, and as history knows it. No other social system can compete with the entrepreneurial free market system in terms of productivity, raising standards of living and creating permanent prosperity.” -John Butcher
  • Entrepreneurship is not about getting one over on the customer. it’s not about working on your own. It’s not about looking out for number one. It’s not necessarily about making a lot of money. It is absolutely not about letting work take over your life. On the contrary, it’s about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward with it.
  • Inspire your 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.


  • Far from ‘slapping our brand name’ on a number of products, we carefully research the Achilles heels of different global industries, and only when we feel we can potentially turn an industry on its head, and fulfill our key role as the consumer’s champion, do we move in on it.
  • An established brand on a new product is a guarantee that what you’re getting will be, in its own way, like something you’ve enjoyed before.


  • The bald fact is, change, most of the time, is a threat. it’s the thing that wants to kill you. And let’s face it: one day it will. In business, change always happens more quickly than you want – it steals up on you fast, when you are least prepared.
  • Those business leaders who seek, in interviews and in their writings, to turn their industries into complex puzzles, subtle chess games of one sort or another – these people really, really annoy me.
  • A basic understanding of the business, gleaned by immersing yourself in every little detail for months or even weeks, is often enough to get you started. The volume of information you’ll need to hack through will be high – so find some friends to help you – but the underlying business model is always fairly simple.
  • Remember to communicate, and pay attention to detail.
  • As I said, communication is important – and to that we might now want to add the words, ‘especially communication with one’s bank!’
  • Don’t be afraid of changing your bank if they are unreasonable. Banks are not for life. But don’t put it off till the last minute!
  • When you’re first thinking through an idea, it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity.
  • It’s easy to be hoodwinked by technical-sounding detail, and to parrot it at others, and to feel important in doing so. It’s hard to ask the naive question. Nobody wants to look silly.
  • You can never go too far wrong by thinking like a customer who’s new to the business.
  • It’s easy – too easy, in fact – to relinquish your responsibility for your idea to experts. This is almost always a mistake, because experts are only experts in their field. The’re not experts in your idea. At this stage, the only person qualified to assess your idea is you.
  • You need to flesh out your own ideas. You need to do your own research. You need to take responsibility for how you plan to turn an idea into action. That way, when you approach the experts – the accountants, the legal brains – thy have something to get their teeth into.
  • An expert who makes things more complicated isn’t doing their job right – and frankly, this is probably your fault. An expert should make things simpler.
  • Remember: complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.
  • Remember, everyone has an agenda, so the advice you receive from outside your trusted circle is not just to benefit you. Almost all of it will be well meant, but even the best of such advice needs interpreting.
  • You’re in business to deliver change, and if you succeed, the chances that no one will get hurt are virtually zero.
  • Be sportsmanlike, play to win, and stay friends with people wherever possible. If you do fall out with someone, ring them a year later and take them out to dinner. Befriend your enemies.
  • Engage your emotions at work. Your instincts and emotions are there to help you. Business is a ‘gut feeling’.

Learning from Mistakes and Setbacks

  • Never do anything that means you can’t sleep at night.
  • 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.
  • Always, always, have a disaster protocol in place. Because if something truly horrific occurs, a lot of frightened people are going to come to you looking for answers.
  • Code Black – Have a code in communication that indicate that something is really serious (shit hits the fan)
  • Every senior executive should be capable, if push comes to shove, of becoming a visible company spokesperson.
  • You can’t protect yourself against the unexpected, so you need to keep you house in as good an oder as you can. If disaster strikes, you don’t want to find youself ding twelve things at once an misprioritising them in pulbic. It’s vital, therefore, that you take control of you internal business risks – th ones you can influence.
  • I don’t think that a chairman need fall on his sword if someone messes up in the company. Chairmen must learn from the incident and try to make sure that particular mistakes are never repeated.
  • I know business books that say you should never admit to failure, but I would not tolerate such an attitude among my people.
  • I think it is counterproductive to be ruthless. You’ve got to treat people as you would yourself, or better.
  • There never was a time in business or political history when talented people resigned over trifles, or out of some notion of honor. It’s a myth.
  • Managers should stay where they are and sort their messes out. It’s what they’re paid for, after all. Most importantly, someone should apologize for the mess happening in the first place.
  • If you drive down the retail price fast enough when you are the dominant player, you never allow anyone else to catch up because they can’t make enough money.
  • When you have found out what is going wrong, the next step is to get the team involved to fix it rather than fire them. That way, you can keep your team together and close the door on rivals who might benefit from your mistakes by hiring the very people have just learned the lesson the hard way.
  • The set up a stall at the V festival to have revellers sample their products. They had two bins: a ‘yes’ bin and a ‘no’ bin. They asked people weather they should give up their full-time jobs to start the company.
  • Any star-up business should sit down and take a long hard look at its legal agreements.
  • Protect your reputation. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. These are the rules I live by. They ought not to contradict each other but many businesses wrongly assume that they do.
  • Certainly you should never keep you head down. That will do you no good at all – it’ll simply confirm someones’s lousy opinion of you.
  • Our culture of openness also prevents bad news from building up a head of steam before it reaches the public. The public is actually pretty forgiving of most business errors except hypocrisy, and stalling almost always backfires.
  • We look for people with exciting, dynamic CVs, not spotless ones.
  • A defensive, conservative, cautious mindset – a natural enough reaction when things get tough – can kill you stone dead in a competitive marketplace. When your very existence is threatened, you have to change.
  • The best way out is always through.
  • Over many years, Virgin’s business aim has been to find a strong position in a game-changing market.
  • Virgin’s normal rate of return in business is around 30 per cent.
  • Like most really successful people I’ve met, Martin Hughes was more interested in doing the right and proper thing than the easy and expedient one.
  • In major bids, involving billions of pounds, success comes from identifying the downside – and covering it – far more than planning for the upside.
  • What if you can’t move on? What if there is nowhere to move to? You could always perform the hardest trick in the book of business tricks: get very small, very specialized and very expensive.


  • The best, most solid way out of a crisis in a changing market is through experiment and adaption.
  • Innovation can occur when the most elementary questions are asked and employees are given the resources and power to achieve the answers.
  • Virgin employees, after the’ve started a shiny new Virgin company or run a mature one with aplomb, are worth holding on to because they love the brand they helped build and their experience and knowledge of the brand are priceless. New companies are a great way to keep them challenged – and to keep them within the family.
  • Innovation is often what you didn’t know you wanted until you got it.
  • The team weren’t motivated by getting ahead – there was no corporate ladder and they weren’t inspired or intimidated by a bureaucratic hierarchy. They were empowered and they owned the product.
  • Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean being first or biggest, but being the best.
  • Market consultancies are a mixed bag, on the whole. You should definitely see what they have to offer, but please, never neglect your own reading and thinking. Consultancies, like any group of experts, are best given something to chew on, and the more insight and detail you can provide about your needs and questions, the more useful the advice you will get back.
  • The secret to success in any new sector is watchfulness, usually over a period of many years.
  • Frankly, space – outer space – is there for the taking.
    • Take a real interest in people, and what the’re up to, and how you might be able to help. You are not going to strike gold in this sector on your own.
  • Trusty me on this: luck is essential.
    • But then, chance favors the prepared mind.
  • Innovation is what you get when you capitalize on luck, when you get up from behind your desk and go and see where ideas and people lead you.

Entrepreneurs and Leadership

  • You need to be able to recognize what you can do as an individual – and how you inspire and motivate other individuals to cooperate willingly to get the job done. How to achieve this? Well, for starters, this is something that should – no, must – be written into every business plan: This company will have lots and lots of paries and social get-togethers.
  • The entrepreneur’s job is effectively to put themselves out of a job each time the new company is up an d running.
  • It is generally asking four trouble for an entrepreneurs to stick round for too long, trying to cover both roles (entrepreneur and manager).
  • An emerging entrepreneur should sign every cheque. Examine every invoice, and you’ll soon appreciate where your money is going. Even in a big business like the Virgin Group, I sit down now and again and sign every single cheque that goes out, and I ask my managing directors to do the same. For a month. Sign everything for a month every six months and suddenly you’re asking: “What on earth is this for?’
  • As a small-business person, you must immerse yourself 100 per cent in everything an learn about the ins and outs of every single department.
  • Once a business mature and is established, it can become more challenging to retain that excitement. What we do at Virgin is not let businesses get too mature.
  • The ability to listen, and the willingness to stick your neck out and ask the obvious question, are criminally underrated business essentials.
  • The great and good in you business sector are a resource you should take seriously. Finding a way to harness that resource to best support and encourage your industry will add value to your brand – and what you learn will have a direct and positive effect on your business.
  • Failure is not giving things a go in the first place. People who fail are those who don’t have a go and don’t make an effort.


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