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

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.


Guns, Roses and Rock ‘n’ Roll

I’m delighted to announce a liaison with Vicky Hamilton, former Manager of Guns N’ Roses, Poison and Faster Pussycat and management consultant with Mötley Crüe. Together, we offer MBA2 where Masters of Business Administration meets Much Bigger Amplifiers … a unique combination of lessons on leadership from Vicky’s experience in holding explosive rock bands together with Peter’s quintessentially English observations on business from his combined experience as an MBA tutor, scientist and musician. We offer insights on the following topics:

  • Disruptive and creative thinking about your business strategy and practices
  • Converting creativity into sustainable profit
  • Managing volatile people with huge egos under extreme pressure
  • Negotiation, influencing and persuading powerful people
  • Building and rethinking your brand to face a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous)

We are giving showcase events at The Virgin Lounges in the UK on these dates:

Virgin Lounge Tour 2016

Virgin Lounge Tour 2016

We are also offering a strictly limited dinner with Vicky and myself, providing a 1:1 opportunity for detailed discussions about managing high performance people with planetary sized egos. Contact me to book your dinner date:

Where Business meets Rock'n'Roll - Book a Dinner Date with Vicky Hamilton et moi

Where Business meets Rock’n’Roll – Book a Dinner Date with Vicky Hamilton et moi

At 22, Vicky Hamilton left her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and arrived on the Sunset Strip as a wide-eyed blonde with an ear for rock & roll: “I was back home interviewing Tom Petty for Three Rivers Review,” says Hamilton, “And he told me I was a ‘real California girl,’ and that’s all it took.” It was 1981, and Hamilton arrived at the centre of Hollywood; where the scene was erupting with spandex, sex, cocaine, Aqua Net hairspray and madcap visionaries, like Hamilton, who discovered Guns N’ Roses and became their first manager and surrogate mother. She moved on to work as an A&R executive at major labels such as Geffen and Capitol, in addition to starting her own Grammy winning indie label Small Hairy Dog. Vicky’s book “Appetite for Dysfunction” is a no-holds-barred exploration of the realities of managing rock bands with transferable lessons for anyone seeking to manage creative people or disrupt their markets. Vicky is considered one of the most successful female industry players and has made many TV appearances on MTV, VH1, BBC, The Biography Channel etc.

Sex, Dysfunction and Rock'n'Roll

Sex, Dysfunction and Rock’n’Roll

Slash 4

Slash meets Prince – with my pal Aaron Stone after hours at a private party 


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Business / Organisation Development and Coaching / Mentoring. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with the wisdom of the street via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music.

For some wisdom on business leadership, innovation and creativity, check Peter’s seventh book out at Bloomsbury or book us for a masterclass or longer development programme.


A Song for Europe

Come Together, right now

Come Together, right now

I’m seriously hoping that some sense prevails and that we can pull back from economic oblivion and a sleepwalk into intolerance after our knife edge decision to leave the EU last Thursday. In the meantime, rather than looking to politicians who have almost universally lied to us, I thought we might seek wisdom and solace from some music and musicians:

Hotel California – The Eagles – adequately describes Article 50 !

“You can check-out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations – adequately describes the VUCA world we have entered:

“People moving out, people moving in. Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free. Rap on, brother, rap on
Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the … preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the … teacher.
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball of confusion. Oh yeah, that’s what the world is today. Woo, hey, hey”

The National Front Disco – Morrissey – perhaps sums up the 50% rise in hate and race related crime in the wake of our departure from the EU. Although many Brexit voters are thoughtful and moderate people, a small group have had their racist views legitimised by the Leave vote:

“Because again and again you’ve explained
You’re going to the National
To the National
To the National Front disco
Because you want the day to come sooner
You want the day to come sooner
You want the day to come sooner
When you’ve settled the score”

Anarchy in the UK – The Sex Pistols – It seems to be the way we’re headed if we continue down the road of leaving the EU:

“Is this the M.P.L.A?
Or is this the U.D.A?
Or is this the I.R.A?
I thought it was the UK”

Dreamer – Prince – Nobody does anti-racism like Prince, God rest his soul

“Eye was born & raised on the same plantation
In the united states of the red, white and blue
Eye never knew that eye was different
Til dr. king was on the balcony
Lying in a bloody pool
Expected so much more from a loving society

A truthful xplanation but you know what?
Eye got another conspiracy

If it was just a dream… call me
Call me a dreamer 2″

Living for the City – Stevie Wonder – With companies considering relocation of their HQ to EU countries, we may well find that the low wage economy becomes the norm in the UK:

“His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floor for many
And you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny”

Paranoid – Black Sabbath – Courtesy of Darren Johnson, who wrote the previous blog entry Rock Against Brexit we have some good old words of wisdom from Ozzy Osbourne:

“Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify”

Baby can I hold you – Tracey Chapman – Finally, Tracey Chapman expresses the spirit of Bregret:

Sorry, Is all you can say

I’m personally not for sitting on my arse and watching this demise whilst playing records. With so many people now expressing “Bregret” I will continue to push UK Government to reconsider the marginal leave vote (51.9% leave, 48.1% remain, 30% non voters and a high proportion of young people who did not manage to register). A quick scan of the local area last night shows the degree of confusion that still surrounds the issue …

Ball of Confusion

Ball of Confusion

Read our other posts on the EU :

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Rock Against Brexit


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock.

Check his new book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” out.

Available in Europe without additional taxes for the next month or so …



The Golden Age of Wireless

Thanks to Simon Rose and Greg Watt at Share Radio for an interview on the station, where we discuss Leadership, Innovation, Creativity and Business, both at the individual and corporate level. The interview is available to Listen Again by clicking the picture below:

Click on the image to hear the Radio broadcast

Click on the image to hear the Radio broadcast


Check “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” with Bloomsbury via this link:

Click the image to go to Bloomsbury Publishing plc

Click the image to go to Bloomsbury Publishing plc


Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?

A few months back, I casually went to a networking event, got talking to a chap who said that they worked in the music business as a recording engineer.  We chatted on for a while, eventually I asked:

“Oh, have you worked on any records that I’d know of?”

Well, the last record I worked on is a bit old now – 40 years in fact” he replied

“What was that then?” I enquired

Bohemian Rhapsody” he casually replied

I pinched myself and asked “Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?”

Turns out that this guy also produced or engineered records for The Kinks, Rush, Deep Purple, Toyah, Yes, Jack Bruce, Hawkwind, Sooty and a very long list of great acts from the 1960’s and 70’s. We got talking about the gentle art of working with people, some of whom have very fixed ideas about how they wanted things done and who sometimes had less than ideal personalities or, at least, egos that were too big for the room. We shared a connection in terms of my friend Bill Nelson, who also worked with Roy Thomas Baker, Queen’s producer. The conversation flowed on and on …

I’ll be talking with Barry Ainsworth at the Virgin Money Lounge in London on FRIDAY February 26th from 3 – 4.30 pm. Book your place NOW via 0207 439 8802. Beyond that, book us for an in company masterclass.

Whether it's a night at the Opera or "we're going down the pub" we can offer you an unforgettable experience

Whether it’s a night at the Opera or “we’re going down the pub” we can offer you an unforgettable experience

Of course these skills are entirely transferrable to the world of “Brain Based Enterprises”, where intellect must be cultivated, facilitated, directed but not squashed. As a result of this, we’re now able to offer a joint masterclass where you will learn from a master of getting things done with volatile and sometimes precocious talents. Should you really wish to make the event unforgettable, we can combine this with a performance of Queen’s material with Patti Russo, long term singing partner of Meatloaf and songstress with Queen and Cher

What’s it like working with Mercurial people? Find out by booking us for a masterclass

The Show Must Go On - with Patti Russo

The Show Must Go On – with Patti Russo


Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Book him for your next interactive motivational keynote or longer masterclass on subjects such as Leadership, Creativity, Innovation and Change.

Books x 4

Improvising into 2016

Improvisation and adaptiveness

My background as a scientist instilled curiosity and the understanding that most of life is a series of experiments. It has been very good for my life as a musician and even better now as a business owner in an age of disruptive change. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) business environment, life in a business requires perpetual change and experimentation to find new focal points. This is a subtle but important difference than a “random walk” which can leads to fad surfing and a lack of consolidation of your value. Improvisation and adaptation have been invaluable skillsets, through one of the deepest recessions for many decades. In the last year or so, some of the results are beginning to show from what I did when there was not much to do in terms of paid activity during those times.

Joining Dots

People tell me that much of my longevity as a business comes down to joining the dots between people, passions and purposes. After winning a prize from Sir Richard Branson for my work on leadership last year, this has flourished, through some deliberation and a bit of luck, into writing for Virgin, gaining an interview with Richard for my new book with Bloomsbury and, more recently running events, which blend business excellence with music in Branson’s Virgin Money Lounges, giving me the good fortune to work alongside Class A rock stars and discover their insights into business, life and the universe. I have also forged a partnership with the awesome Ted Coiné (awesome is not a word that I am drawn to as a sober Brit), but Ted does deserve this tag with his exclusive network Open for Business, which brings together 50 thought leaders around the globe as co-collaborators.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 21.03.04

Restarting the engines

This year has finally been one when a number of businesses have started again to use the services of external people after many years of simply treading water whilst people halted projects or suspended the use of outside people to contain costs. We’ve been fortunate to deliver a range of projects from business reviews, facilitated strategy summits to leadership and innovation conferences for companies as diverse as FujiFilm, MSD, University College London, Bentley and Roche in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Germany and Poland. I was also surprised to receive requests for consultancy projects from The Welsh Assembly, Renault-Nissan and Alstom Transport during the year.

Private joys

I believe that we work best when we do what we love. In my case that means occasionally doing things that my colleagues tell me are dream jobs. Amongst the private joys I’ve had in 2015, I’d mention these:

1. Taking BBC Business correspondent Robert Peston to a P-Funk concert with George Clinton and subsequently writing him a song for his departure from the BBC in support of Cancer Research UK. Check “Pestonomics” out here:

2. Interviewing John Mayall, the Godfather of the Blues, Prince’s sax player, Marcus Anderson and Prince’s first lady, Sheila E, about flow, improvisation, music and a range of other topics. I was delighted to find that Sheila had previously seen my book “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll” – just an incredible result from delivering a copy of the book to Prince some 8 years ago and proof positive of the value of networking. Check Sheila’s interview out here:

3. Performing on stage at London’s Borderline with Bernie Tormé, Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan’s guitarist. Bernie was extremely kind in crediting me for having contributed to the reinvention of his career alongside Arthur Brown and Ginger Wildheart, a great honour and a privilege for someone who takes no prisoners. Here’s the 3 minute rehearsal of his song “Party’s Over”:

4. A great joy was recording four songs as a tribute to my good friend Bill Nelson, who has inspired the likes of Kate Bush, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Brian May at al. Bill has been a constant source of inspiration and wisdom for over 40 years of my life and remains to this day a permanent flame when the lights go out from time to time. Check out the Be-Bop Deluxe song “Crying to the Sky”, which was itself an homage to Jimi Hendrix. Also one of my earliest musical influences from Bill’s band Be-Bop Deluxe “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape”, written about Bill’s home area. Recording these songs was not an idle musical adventure. Through my advert for musicians, the project introduced me to Robert Craven, Virgin author and business speaker, also a Bill Nelson nut. I had already known of Robert through his work at The Director’s Centre but we had not met. To misquote Be-Bop Deluxe, the meeting was “Made In Heaven” and Robert and I are planning some collaborations for 2016.

5. I was fortunate to have played a small part in helping Patti Russo reinvent her career in the PME (Post Meatloaf Era). I enjoyed her performances with Spike Edney and the SAS band immensely but the high point was seeing her perform solo at The Opera House at Buxton where she gave a spine tingling performance of her song “One Door Opens”.

Public disappointments

The VUCA environment of the last few years have seen more window shoppers than usual and turbulence has just more or less cancelled much of my work for 2016, due to a merger at Pfizer-Allergan, an internal reorganisation and a persistent timewaster, who shall go un-named at the moment, since I am presently trying to mediate over the matter. No matter how old I get, I have not yet invented a foolproof way to spot fools in advance of them fooling me into giving my time for free. Hey ho, I guess that the alternative is to develop greater resilience!

My biggest mistake in 2015 was when I was approached by a chap called Mike Waterton, who rolled up in a Bentley seeking advice on how to transform his career from the boss of a recruitment agency into a noted author and speaker. I saw no reason to doubt his credentials (My wife tells me I trust everyone!) A while later, he told me he was unable to pay for the services I had provided as his business had gone into liquidation. Later on, he was accused in a local newspaper of pimping out his 25 year old girlfriend at a hotel in Kent! I generally consider myself to be a good judge of character, but I guess you never can tell … ! The FBI (Foolish Businessman Indicator) would have come in handy! It’s the first bad debt I have had in 21 years of business and I cannot understand how I did not spot the alarm bells earlier. It turns out that Mike is the victim of the seductive argument that you can have everything you want in life, as suggested in the book “The Secret” and beautifully parodied in “Family Guy” when Brian the dog decides to turn himself into a personal development guru and writes a book called “Wish It, Want It, Do It“:


Click on the picture to see an excerpt of this brilliant piece of satire on The Law of Attraction

As a result of becoming indoctrinated by “The Secret” Mike bought the Bentley without realising that he would bankrupt his business in the process. His wife then left him after he acquired a young girl that appeared to come with the car. Lots of other people lost their jobs and earnings as a result of his self-obsessed strategy, informed by one of his mantras – “Think only of Yourself”, which is morally bankrupt and which bankrupted him and others who his life connected with. It’s not what I advised him to do and I’m disappointed that (a) he was economical with the truth about his situation and (b) that I was not able to persuade him to take a different course of action. I’d cautioned him about his strategy, suggesting that he built on his strengths rather than attempting to build a business on someone else’s brand, where he had no authority platform to operate from. Unfortunately, my advice turned out to be correct, but he also took advice from his girlfriend, who encouraged him to reach for the stars. A clear case of what my Mancunian wife calls “Fur Coat, No Knickers”.

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex ... one of life's professional disappointments

Clearly I had little to offer in terms of professional coaching when matched against sex … one of life’s professional disappointments

Hopes and fears

“I made it through the wilderness, yeah I made it through” – Madonna

Having come through the recession over 8 years, I come out of it having refined what I do, branded it, become much better networked and with a range of artefacts to show for my efforts, the most precious one of which is a major new book called “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” for Bloomsbury which I’m very excited about.

Of course, I am 8 years older into the bargain and this occasionally worries me as young things can see such people as irrelevant in a workplace that values apps over application and wisdom. To survive in business in an adaptive environment requires improvisation, curiosity and the willingness to learn new skills without becoming distracted by every shiny new thing that passes you by. As an improvising musician scientist and business owner I feel up for the challenge …

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016.