Leadership Lessons from Two Virgins

I was approached by David Tait OBE recently to form a speaking partnership. David was with Virgin Atlantic from the very beginning and is acknowledged by Sir Richard Branson as having played a pivotal role in the development of Virgin, marking its progress from an underground office to a global luxury brand.David wrote British Atlantic Airways first business plan, a company that would eventually become Virgin Atlantic. In 1984, Tait became the fledgling airline’s first US employee, reporting directly to Sir Richard Branson. He built and led all the airline’s North American operations including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, finance, IT and HR. He was awarded an OBE in 2001 by Queen Elizabeth II for “services to British aviation in the United States”. Since that time he has worked as a consultant to the airline and travel industry and is a founding partner in the online luxury hotel booking site “Discover Luxury”. David has a veritable treasure trove of stories that offer insights into the ingenious and disruptive strategies of a serial entrepreneur and the Virgin brand. Here are just a few of the stories we share in our work together.

I want to break free … frustration and innovation

In the same way that Sir James Dyson’s breakthrough Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner was inspired by his frustration with his existing vacuum cleaner, Branson’s decision to start Virgin Atlantic was inspired by a sense of frustration with existing customer service:

“As the head of Virgin Records, Richard Branson was a frequent flier between London and New York. Frustrated by consistently high fares and bad service he was convinced there had to be a better way and so, never one to be hindered by conventional wisdom, decided he would look at starting his own transatlantic airline. He’d learned from his success in the music business that what doesn’t work in theory can sometimes work in practice. But this was different – in a business ruled by Goliaths, starting another airline was a major leap of faith!

But just ‘another airline’ wasn’t what Branson had in mind. With the help of a few former Laker executives and some entertainment industry flair, Virgin crafted a radically different model. Branded Virgin Atlantic Airways – by conservative airline standards a risqué move – the product it offered would be equally disruptive.”


An obsession with Customer Service – Virgin Upper Class

Being frustrated is insufficient to innovate.  You must go on and do something about it. Some 5127 prototypes later James Dyson produced his first commercially viable Dual Cyclone cleaner. Branson also went past frustration and disrupted the market in a monopoly industry. Find out more about Dyson and Branson in our exclusive interviews with both at “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

Screw it, Let’s do it

David recalls the “Screw it, Let’s do it” days of Virgin Atlantic’s maiden flights to New York. One of Richard Branson’s secrets is that he is a master of delegation and that sometimes means he does not always “do the detail”. It turned out that Richard had managed to forget his passport for the first Virgin Atlantic flight to the USA, which technically made him an illegal immigrant! David had to skilfully navigate his way out of the problem …


David also shares insights on how to change the customer experience via the early days of Virgin Atlantic with a fellow alumni of my secondary school, Sir David Frost:

“Those on the inbound trip were party to a flight that could well have made the Guinness World Records book for the most champagne consumed on a single Atlantic crossing.

A smiling David Frost, who was almost a weekly commuter across the Atlantic at the time, told me that it was the first time he’d ever made the entire seven-hour trip standing up with a drink in his hand”.


Sir David Frost R.I.P.

As well as some great storytelling, together David and I offer deep insights and takeaway concepts presented in ways that last forever. My experience of teaching MBA’s over 20 years has shown that we are missing out on the heart and soul of leadership by just teaching dry concepts. The mnemonic MBA should really stand for Much Bigger Amplifiers rather than More Blooming Analysis! We cover subjects such as

  • Disruptive thinking about your business strategy and practices
  • Converting ideas into sustainable innovations
  • Building and rethinking your brand to face a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous)
  • The “anatomy” of Sir Richard Branson : Why he leads the way he does
  • How does Virgin organise its affairs? – Culturally, structurally and in terms of day to day people management
  • Customer Centricity without Customer OCD
  • Leadership for good : Balancing Passion, Purpose and Profit

We finish with the hilarious story of Richard’s entrée into the world of Cola, which resulted in failure:

Cola Wars

“When trying to promote anything in the US one really has to “Go big or go home” – well, we went big! … I drove a vintage Sherman tank down Broadway … heroically smashing through a giant wall of Coke and Pepsi cans.”

Sir Richard Branson

On this occasion Richard’s underlying modus operandi of “playing David to Goliath” did not succeed. Coca Cola engaged their massive distribution machine to ensure there was no room on the shelves for Virgin’s product, Coke was discounted massively and Virgin retired injured. The key point here is the idea that success recipes work for a set of reasons and therefore transplanting a recipe (the David and Goliath approach in this case) does not always work in a new set of circumstances.

Contact me via peter@humdyn.co.uk to book David and myself for that very special event.

With Sir Richard Branson at The Virgin Money Lounge

With Sir Richard Branson at The Virgin Money Lounge

Engineering Bohemian Rhapsody

Here is our 1:1 interview with Barry Ainsworth, the man who engineered Bohemian Rhapsody as well as records for people as diverse as Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Rush, Deep Purple, Toyah, Yes, Jack Bruce, Hawkwind, Sooty !! and a very long list of music acts from the 1960’s and 70’s. Filmed and produced by Rory Gill, freelance film maker. Barry and I are available to give talks on aspects of working with precocious talents and extracting their genius with transferrable lessons for businesses who are interested in innovation and creativity.

Some of the artists Barry has produced

Just some of the artists Barry has produced … from Otis Redding “Dock of the Bay” to Deep Purple, Nancy Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Petula Clark etc.

To whet your appetite, in this film you will learn about:

  • Working in Liverpool’s Cavern – birthplace of The Beatles
  • Working with Frank and Nancy Sinatra
  • Dealing with Monsters of Rock – Deep Purple, Cream
  • Working with incendiary people – Lemmy, Punk Rock
  • Innovation in music recording and production
  • Working with Queen and dealing with perfectionists

So, please view the film, comment and share it widely.

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Lounge

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Money Lounge in London


Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check his books out on Amazon:

Click to view books on Amazon

Click to view books on Amazon

If you enjoyed this article, try some of our other work:

On Creativity and Playfulness

Prince and Innovation

Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

Hendrix and Clapton compared – Innovation style

On the One, Bass Ida

We’re very lucky to be interviewing Ida Nielsen, aka Bassida at Camden’s Underworld on Wednesday September 07, organised by Nigel Hart of Nitro Management. Ida has a new album out called Turn It Up.  For the last 5 years was the anchor in Prince’s New Power Generation and 3rd Eye Girl until his sad passing at just 57 years of age.


Bass in ur face – Ida Nielsen and Prince

Ida Nielsen hails from Denmark. She started playing bass at age 16, studying music at The Royal Danish Academy of Music. Ida is a multi-instrumentalist and in 2010 received an out of the blue invite to play with Prince which she assumed was a joke! She is something of a bass tech expert and an advocate of TC Electronics equipment, which a number of my friends also use in their rigs.


Beauty and the Bass – Ida’s style combines resonance in the low register with superb slap bass for punch and sparkle in the high end

There will be a full report on my film interview with film maker Rory Gill and the concert after Ida’s performance. Her music is cool and funky. Ida’s bass playing combines beautiful low registers to reach your soul and a healthy dose of popping to excite your synapses. For now, read this interview about this all round musicologist at Bassida. Here’s two extracts from that piece on what she learned from working with Prince:

“I learned to play tight. He was so tight about making space in the music. There’s always a lot going on in my music, and I’m trying to clean it up because I know that’s what he would do. Not that I wasn’t playing tight before, but he taught me to not play all the notes in between that we bass players normally do. It’s a little bit like a drummer who is always rolling on the snare instead of keeping a tight, simple beat. Prince taught me to keep it simple. With my own stuff, I make everyone else play simple so I get all the space!🙂

The first time I was in the studio recording with him, I was in shock because I found out he doesn’t use a click track. I was like…what? When you hear every record it sounds like there is a click because it’s so tight. It’s all about locking within the band and getting it that tight and I feel like that’s what it’s all about. I love the whole idea of, “we don’t actually need a click. It doesn’t matter if the tempo goes a little up or down as long as the energy and the life is there.”

Check Ida’s new album Turn It Up on iTunes.


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – offering long term development programmes on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity and shorter masterclasses and keynotes via The Academy of Rock, which uniquely fuses Business School insights with parallel lessons from the field of music. Author of 7 books on creativity and business – check them out at Amazon:

Click to view books on Amazon

Click to view books on Amazon

An intimate audience with Jordan Gray

At The Pheasantry in Kings Road, Chelsea - Photo by Rory Gill

Jordan Gray at The Pheasantry in Kings Road, Chelsea – Photo by Rory Gill

A few months back I conducted an intimate interview with Jordan Gray, Star of The Voice and with talents way beyond many artists I’ve ever seen in my life. Singer, songwriter, musician and performer all rolled into one, without any formal training in any of these disciplines. The interview offers transferable insights for anyone seeking to carve out their career as an entrepreneur in any field of endeavour. Jordan talks candidly about her life, learning her craft, managing fame, creativity, staying true to yourself and looking after her brand as a self-made musician and musicpreneur.

We also did a showcase event with Jordan at The Virgin Lounge in London.  Here is a behind the scenes piece of music recorded at Pizza Express Jazz Club in preparation for the Lounge event

Check Jordan’s new album The Baffled King is out on iTunes. Jordan is currently on tour in the UK. Don’t miss a chance to see her perform live whilst you can. She has been described as wistful, whimsical, expressive, eclectic; the sky falls staggeringly short of the true limit for this peculiar pseudonymous superstar.

Filming and production by Rory Gill. Photography by Christina Jansen.

Jordan Gray at the Virgin Money Lounge - click image to listen to her album

Jordan Gray at the Virgin Money Lounge – click image to listen to her album

Come to our next series of free events at the Virgin Money Lounge, featuring Vicky Hamilton, former manager to Guns N’ Roses, Poison and Mötley Crüe. All details at Virgin.


Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business Development around Strategy, Innovation, Creativity and Change.

Buy Peter’s new book out on innovation and creativity with Bloomsbury. Check out our full development programme for sustainable and profitable innovations.


UK Tour : A Motley Crew

Here are the dates of our tour of UK Virgin Money Lounges with Vicky Hamilton, former manager of Guns N’ Roses, Poison and management consultant to Motley Crue. Vicky worked directly for the inflammatory character that was David Geffen, CEO of Geffen Records and Capitol Records during her career and learned at the School of Hard Rocks rather than Harvard Business School. The combination of Vicky’s hard bitten experience and my own distillation of MBA’s makes for a powerful combination. All dates are entirely FREE and run from 3.00 – 4.30 pm.

On each tour date we are also booking business masterminding session where you will gain insights into management of some of the most incendiary people on the planet with transferable value to your own enterprise.

Click to book your place at the relevant Virgin Lounge:

Glasgow - Tuesday September 13 Click to book your place

Glasgow – Tuesday September 13 Click to book your place or call 0141 221 1952


Manchester Wed 14 Sept - Click to book

Manchester – Wednesday September 14 – Click to book your place or call 0161 832 8259


Sheffield - Thursday September 15 - Click to book your place

Sheffield – Thursday September 15 – Click to book your place or call 0114 276 8262


London Eagle Place - Friday September 16 - Click to book your place

London Eagle Place – Friday September 16 – Click to book your place or call 0207 439 8802

We’ll have copies of Vicky’s book available after lounge events alongside my books “Sex Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” and the latest one for Bloomsbury “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“.

Leadership Lessons from The Academy of Rock

Leadership Lessons from The Academy of Rock – Where MBA = Much Bigger Amps !!

Come lounge and learn from someone who has managed the tantrums, bizarre expectations, dysfunctional behaviours, creativity and hair of these people. I sense she managed this by being something of an equivalent diva herself. Expect fireworks!!

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 20.37.21

Attitude for dysfunction


Amplifying your brand

What do Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Slash, Alex Lifeson, Kirk Hammett and Buddy Guy have in common? They all played through a guitar amplifier brand that the legendary amp designer Steve Grindrod has worked for …

I came across Steve Grindrod recently via a couple of contacts in a most unlikely series of network connections, from Cult Punk Rocker John Otway to the owner of Carlsbro Amplifiers, a chap in Canada who I’d connected with on Linkedin via another Brit abroad who went to school with Elton John and worked on Live Aid !!🙂 Proof positive to the naysayers that networking works … but, like everything, you have to work at it …

Steve is the designer of Grindrod Amplifiers with 27 years working as Chief Designer at Marshall Amps, where he created iconic amps including the JCM800, Silver Jubilee, JCM900 and JCM2000 and 8 years as Chief Designer at Vox, where he created the AC30, Custom Classic, and Heritage AC15. A tech enthusiast and tone obsessive, Steve created Grindrod to take the guitarist’s dream sound to new heights.

Buy your share of Grindrod Amplifiers - Click on the picture

Buy your share of Grindrod Amplifiers – Click on the picture

Steve is inviting music enthusiasts to share in the ownership of his namesake brand through popular UK equity crowdfunding portal Seedrs. Grindrod is making 50-percent of the equity in his company available through the Seedrs offering. He says:

“For over 40 years I’ve obsessed on one thing: making guitarists sound better. The way I’ve achieved this is by listening deeply to their concerns and by becoming one with their wants and needs,” said Steve Grindrod. “Since we’re one emotionally and SGA is still a young company, I felt it would be meaningful to invite guitarists to share in the growth of my brand with me. Has a guitarist ever been able to say, ‘I own a piece of the amp brand I play?’ Now they can.”

What do Grindrod amps sound like?  Well, have a listen to this demo by Steppenwolf’s guitarist:

This is your once in a lifetime chance to own a piece of music history. Shake your money maker by checking out Grindrod’s Crowdfunding Site out now.

Hall of fame

Hall of fame


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Check his latest book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” out at Bloomsbury.


Time Travel, Retro-Futurism and Religion – Raf and O

I recently attended the premiere for Raf and O’s new album “Portal” in the beautiful setting of St James the Less Church in Pimlico. Raf and O are Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith (O), combining acoustic guitar and drums with an eclectic range of electronica. People ask, what do they sound like and I have to say “Raf and O” !! This is a rare achievement in a world of repeat performances and soundalikes.  They describe themselves as performing unique detailed avant-pop, fusing electro/ acoustic drums, self-made triggers, pads, samplers, vocals, synths and acoustic guitar bathed in effects. This is accurate even if it does not trip off the tongue in a media friendly soundbite !!🙂

The Eagle Has Landed - with Raf and O

iThe Eagle Has Landed – with Raf and O – where less is more at St James the Less – Click on the picture to buy the album on iTunes

David Stubbs of The Quietus also attempts to explain Raf and O’s music:

“The excellent Time Machine represents the very antithesis of EDM – There is a butterfly, acoustic delicacy and yet also the deceptive, steel strength of spider silk in their complex weaving – Raf’s vocal ranges far and wide in her emotional and lyrical foragings”

I first came across Raf and O at Richard Strange’s “Cabaret Futura” club – a place where Marc Almond, Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and Alexi Sayle first passed through. Since that time, Raf and O performed at Richard’s stunning production “Language is a Virus from Outer Space” at The Southbank Centre. The production celebrated the life of William Burroughs, leading light of the Beat Movement and author of “Naked Lunch”.

The album “Portal” explores time travel, although, questioning the real and the imagined via a sound world of spaciousness, tinged in sinister shades. It articulates their journey of the last two years, a series of connections, discoveries and dreams, seeming at times to tune in with the people who passed, leaving a mark into this world and unto our consciousness.

Photograph by Peter Tainsh

If you are looking for instant gratification in a busy world, try listening to “The Deadliest Flower” or “Magic” to give you an insight into just one window pane of their diverse work.  Find them on You Tube for an insight into their performance capabilities.

The evening was started by an equally awesome performance from Emmy nominated electronicist Robert Logan. Robert’s list of collaborators include Grace Jones, Brigitte Fontaine, Steve Roach and Skye (Morcheeba). He recently collaborated with Raf and O on a series of sessions working closely in the same space, in their own words:

“Concocting a deconstructed and layered amalgamation of song, electronic sounds, dense atmospheres and organic instruments, textures and further exploration of fragmentation”

On the evening itself, Robert built up an impressive soundscape in the Church, using modern versions of classic Korg Synthesisers fused with modern digital technologies – the sweetspot where ancient meets postmodern. Even a prayer mat was involved …

Where Church Meets Korg - The Set up for Robert Logan

Where Church Meets Korg – The Set up for Robert Logan

If you are bored with hearing template music and want to hear sounds you have never imagined, get hold of some music by these artists for a change …

Fusing tradition with church and electronica - Click on the picture to find Raf and O's work with Robert Logan - Photography by Peter Tainsh

Fusing tradition with church and electronica – Click on the picture to find Raf and O’s work with Robert Logan – Photography by Peter Tainsh


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Check his latest book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” out at Bloomsbury.

Author and contributor to 11 books