Today I took the inaugural flight on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin “Little Red” domestic flight from Manchester to London with aviation specialist and guitar supremo Steve Courtie. A splendid flight, and a splendid partnership. I spoke with Steve Kelly, Fleet Manager for Aer Lingus (pictured above) and Edmond Rose, Virgin’s Director of Commercial and Revenue Planning about the partnership between Virgin and Aer Lingus. Steve pointed out that Aer Lingus have moved from a position of trying to emulate Ryanair some 10 years ago to the point where their chief advantage is doing things differently under the leadership of Christoph Mueller. This has made the merger of minds, bodies and spirit possible in ways that may not have been possible in times past.
Richard Branson continues to be a consumer champion and an innovator, moving into industries which have become tired or over complex. Here’s a few of my favourite things about the man:
Simplicity – Virgin Trains is not called Connex South Eastern. Virgin Money is not called J.P Morgan Chase – the clue is in the title. I’ve just also found that Virgin Media‘s phone and internet packages are much simpler than the competition, having just switched away from Demon Internet after years of legendarily bad service.
PR Genius – Virgin gains a disproportionately high level of publicity compared with its actual size. This spirit comes from its owner who is known to set aside about 25% of his time for public relations activity. He’s comfortable in his own skin, and also in a wedding dress. Here’s a quote from a happy traveller:
“Much respect to the man. He was mobbed in the lounge with photo hunters and even on board whilst sat in Upper could not get away from people wanting pictures. Guess it’s part of the job for him. Super pleasant man, got up 45 mins to landing and walked up and down the plane greeting people, then made an announcement as we landed thanking everyone for flying Virgin, to huge applause”
Hippy Realist – Branson started life as a hippy with his record label, recording acts such as Henry Cow, Gong. These acts were indeed radical but without some handle on the finances Branson would probably have been selling “The Big Issue” these days. He has both a set of hippy ideals and a grip on realism to ensure that his fanciful ideas are grounded in some sensible economics. This is how creativity turns into innovation. Bob Geldof spelt this out in graphic terms when describing how Richard attempted to sign him to his record label, pointing out what a shrewd business person Branson is – decency prevents me from actually repeating Geldof’s words here! Here’s one of Branson’s first audacious publicity stunts – the release of Gong’s album “Camembert Electrique” for just 59 pence, the price of a single at that time. Photo courtesy of the great Daevid Allen via Dave Sturt, bass supremo for Bill Nelson and Gong:
I am showcasing one of Richard Branson’s former acts at a spectacular event in May aboard a ship in Kent. Dubbed “The Godfather of Punk” by Johnny Rotten, Richard Strange will be appearing at an event, which spans art and business, sponsored by Kent Business School. Tickets are strictly limited so hurry, hurry, hurry. Full details below:
Richard Branson, Gong, Richard Strange and Bill Nelson (all Virgins) feature in my latest book “The Music of Business”, available at author discount worldwide via The Music of Business. We leave with a “Rolling Stone” gathering Kate Moss and another “Little Red” theme tune from the Rolling Stones.
About the Blogger: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Check his exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson out in his new work “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“.