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.”

revivals

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 …

Brand-son


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”.

richard-branson

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

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Enigmatic Leadership

Does your enigma as a leader increase if a sense of mystery surrounds your life?  I was thinking about this whilst listening to the BBC broadcast on Prince’s ‘Vault’ of unreleased material today, estimated to be more than 70% of his recorded output.

In case you are not familiar, Prince is thought to write a song every day and is already considered to be capable of releasing albums for many years after his death, achieving some kind of mythical ‘life after death’ status for some of his fans.  It’s a quite different approach to that of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, where people have struggled to find anything like a catalogue of quality unreleased material.

Undoubtedly, his enigma is a great allure for his fanbase, some of whom would probably do anything to see him. This level of adulation has its downside. My own frustration with the purple genius’ enigma reached its peak when I bought a ticket to one of his aftershows in London some years back, only to find the he had gone directly to Dubrovnik after the main show and had no intention of performing, leaving me cold and tired, walking around London till the early hours.  Yes, the billing for these shows did say “Expect the unexpected”, but at that point I felt he had stretched the deal way beyond the promise!  I recall he did something similar in Ireland some years back as well and at numerous other locations.  Yet, he also occasionally gives ‘random acts of kindness’, such as when I queued for 7 hours to see him in London last year, expecting to pay £70 for the pleasure and then being asked for £10 when I reached the door.

Do the concepts of being mysterious and precocious stretch to modern day leadership in business? I’m sure many of you would expect me to say yes, given my ‘minor obsession’ with music and business parallels, but this is one area where I have to say no.  Here’s three things you should not ‘copy and paste’ from Prince’s example as a leader and two that you might:

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Finally, here’s the song from my ‘vault’ that I wrote for Prince, in support of the charity Autism Rocks. Download your copy now via Bandcamp and tell your friends.  Also a picture of Prince’s spiritual Godfather Mr George Clinton of Parliament after his tour of The Houses of Parliament last week when I caught up with him. I’m off to see George if anyone wants to join me in London on April 15th at Kokos with Dr Andrew Sentance and a special guest.

Prince

What U C Is What U Get – a tribute to Prince, in support of Autism research – artwork by Mary Frances Geiser

First you gotta shake the gate ... of Parliament - with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament

First you gotta shake the gates … of Parliament – with George Clinton at The Houses of Parliament               Photo by Clive Allen

Prince - I would fry for you

                                        Prince – I would fry 4 U – Breakfast can wait!

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics – better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from the world of music via The Academy of Rock.

Author of eight books on Business Leadership – Check his latest one:

Punk Rock People Management

Click on the picture to find out more

   Click on the picture to find out more

Flowers and Dirt

Flowers and Dirt - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Today marks the release of Bernie Tormé’s awesome new double album “Flowers and Dirt” and I’m delighted to been able to help in a small way on the road to Bernie’s renaissance that led to this development. Bernie’s example teaches us valuable lessons about business, marketing and engagement. Firstly, let’s hear the man himself explaining the project:

You may have heard the phrase “If you want something done properly, do it yourself” It is incorrect in many circumstances, since a committed expert will always do a better job than a lazy novice. But in the case of my friend Bernie the cliché is absolutely true … The music industry has lots of people with good intentions but poor timing and competence when it comes to the murky world of marketing and promotion. So Bernie decided to adopt a DIY approach to support his new album release and tour. He crowdfunded the project via Pledge Music to engage people and was funded to 418% of his target.

Bernie’s tour takes off on October 15 and the double album “Flowers and Dirt” is available today on Bandcamp and all the usual platforms. If, like me, you want the money to end up with the artist rather than a bunch of middle men, buy it on Bandcamp.

The Tour Dates - Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

The Tour Dates – Go to http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/shows.html for ticket links

Business and Music Lessons

  1. Whilst conventional wisdom suggests that leadership and management is all about delegation, in the music industry, there is an argument for a DIY approach if you cannot get hold of great people to manage your enterprise.
  2. The DIY approach cuts out all the thieving by major platforms such as Amazon and iTunes, though a plethora of middle men, and connects the artist to their fans direct. It’s what consultants call “disintermediation” but what I call common sense.
  3. Look in other places to find other people who are committed to help you. In Bernie’s case, he harnessed the power of the crowd and a little help from his friends.
  4. Seek advice from experts, but consider your own circumstances too and decide to do what’s right for you. A best-fit approach is always better than “template” business advice.

Bernie was extremely kind in giving me some credit for helping to kick start his thinking re marketing and I ended up with a credit for this “accidental coaching”, alongside Arthur Brown, the man behind the 1960’s hit phenomenon “Fire”. We’ll be performing “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix when I join Bernie on stage at London’s Borderline on October 29th. Be sure to book your place at the gig of the year and relight your own fire …

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Thank you Bernie

Credited alongside the awesomely Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Thank you Bernie!!

Flowers and Dirt - literally - Click to buy the CD or download now

Flowers and Dirt – Click to buy the CD or download now

Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics, offering better Business and Organisation Development, Training and Coaching. He also offers keynotes that blend World Class Leadership Thinking with parallel lessons from music via The Academy of Rock – where Business Meets Music. Author of seven books on Business Leadership, acclaimed by Tom Peters, Professors Charles Handy, Adrian Furnham and Harvey Goldsmith CBE. Contact Peter to transform your enterprise.

Scrapyard Improvisation Challenge

How do you take a bunch of business people who have already done a full days work, enthuse them and, in just two hours, get them to write and perform some original songs followed by engaging them in a live open mic jam session? Well, some of that is “our little secret” at The Academy of Rock. But this post let’s you take a peek inside our approach to team development with music, which was judged as outstanding by one of our clients just recently.

The other week, I took the superb band Masterclass to London for an evening of music composition and fun with a market analysis agency whose HR Director prefers to give their staff ‘memorable experiences’ rather than training to engage, retain and motivate them. Alongside a diet of giving them a chance to actually play with the band, we also provided a ‘Scrapyard Challenge’, whereby we provided participants with a range of naive instruments that I got from a car scrapyard. This helps people escape from notions of what a musical instrument is and who is qualified to play one ….

Some of the scrapyard items we used

From the scrapyard to the stage

In the event, the scrapyard was barely needed. Instead we found an enormously talented bunch of people at the company.  A superb female bass player, several female drummers and singers.  Oh yes, and a few guys that got into the groove! So, how did we do this in such a short time from a standing start is perhaps a good question. Here’s our operating principles for doing amazing things in a short time:

Principles for Spontaneous Combustion

Install positive hallucinations – I learned many years ago through teaching MBA’s for the Open University that the first lesson one needs to teach people is to install the idea that success is possible. Many of my OU students would arrive having failed at school and it was necessary to ‘overwrite’ those assumptions before we could get on with the work.

Lead people to the water, but don’t make them drink – A lot of people think I make people do this or force people to participate. In fact I’ve seen people try to emulate what we do and fail miserably. No-one is made to do anything they don’t want to at our events, which is one of the secrets. This sounds like a really simple idea but it works, suitably led and facilitated and with suitable safeguards installed at the outset.

Choice, Choice, Choice – We always bring much more equipment than is really needed. But this provides choice for people and allows them to engage at a level of their own choosing.

Work inside the client / customer’s wish list – During the ‘aftershow jam session’ we took requests from the floor and then worked the songs up with the people. This is only possible if you have an enormous repertoire and was the main reason I chose Masterclass for this event. Involvement and participation breeds engagement. In the event, we ended up playing a whole hour longer than our agreed time with the company, after which time they still wanted more.

Girls Are Loud - Musical Talent emerges

Girls Are Loud – Musical Talent emerges if you let it happen …

The Masterclass boys

The Masterclass boys

A master of improvisation - We can also bring celebrities to events if required

A master of improvisation – We can also bring celebrities to events if required

We’ve done similar things for a wide range of companies and organisations. To arrange your next staff engagement or conference event with a big difference, please get in touch. Watch out for an exclusive interview with a master of improvisation and creativity – Mr George Clinton, pictured above – coming soon.

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk 07725 927585

Crowdfunding your business – Lessons from Rawk’n’Roll

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I was delighted to see this approach to Crowdfunding working for my friend Bernie Tormé last week.  In under one day, the project to commission a double album had exceeded it’s funding target and is now providing badly needed income for The Teenage Cancer Trust. The idea behind crowdfunding is simple:

  • Find enough people in the world who love something you want to do
  • Ask them to support you by pledging money up front via a web platform
  • Deliver on your promises

It’s another thing altogether to get people to do the pledging and this requires an enticing set of offers, which Bernie has put together.  I personally love the offer to sell his prized guitar given to him by Ozzy Osbourne, although I don’t think he really wants to part with it at £66 600!!

The number of the beast - £66 600

The number of the beast – £66 600

Crowdfunding is increasingly being used by entrepreneurs to overcome the initial funding hurdles to starting an enterprise.  It also allows independent music artists to cut out the middle man of the music industry, which many musicians detest.  This project will succeed and Bernie was kind enough to suggest that he’d used a little bit of my marketing advice in designing the project.  Now it is past the breakeven stage, the fundraising continues but with the greater goal of providing funding to support The Teenage Cancer Trust. It’s what leading author Daniel Pink discusses when he talks about combining Profit and Purpose in “A Whole New Mind”.

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

Bernie is simultaneously supporting a social goal as well as a business one

I have agreed a unique special offer with Bernie for executives wishing to put a bit of soul back into their lives.  We’re offering a trip to Bernie’s studio, some insights into the life of a working rock star, a live jam with the man himself and optional guitar lessons.  The offer is strictly limited to groups of a maximum of 8 people.  Contact me for full details via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk   Bernie also has a series of guitar masterclasses on offer either face to face or via Skype.

Check out the man to hear just what’s on offer and make a bid in this unique project.  We were lucky enough to do a couple of business events with him a while back.  You can’t beat Rawk’n’Roll ….

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.

Two Tribes – Branding for different markets

One of the challenges of managing a brand with two distinctly different manifestations is the need for each of them to have the same strength and a distinctively different targeting. People that don’t know so much about our twin brands tend to think first of what I call our ‘high visibility’ brand – The Academy of Rock, which offers events that blend business ideas with music. As a result our business consultancy offering at Human Dynamics can get submerged under the hullabaloo of the more notorious aspects of what we offer. Importantly different customers or ‘tribes’ are interested in the two diffferent aspects of our work.  To serve them well, our brands need to clearly target the differing needs and wants of the ‘two tribes’, hence the title of this blog.

Contrasting brand images

Contrasting brand images

Conventional wisdom says that you cannot make videos about a serious business consultancy business, but I like to break rules, so we just made a video on Human Dynamics with i54 New Media.  Take a look:

Jeff Bezos at Amazon says that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.  The next best thing to that is what they say willingly on Linkedin, so this was a great opportunity to bring some of this together.  Making films with 154 new media is really simple and quick.  Within 15 minutes, we had shot the video and the finished product was made in double quick time.  More importantly, the film has been pivotal in securing a creativity and innovation keynote at a conference in Malaysia.

Four branding lessons

  1. A brand is a shorthand intended to stop people thinking when they are making decisions under pressure. Just think of the advertising slogan “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.  In a busy and complicated world, it’s vital that you can convey your brand to others in minutes, preferably seconds.  Andy Warhol said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.  In the internet age, that may have come down to 15 seconds.
  2. Brands convey the emotional more than the rational aspects of what your company does. They must rest on some firm foundations to be successful however.  In other words there should be no gap between brand perception and brand experience if you are to succeed.
  3. A brand must tell a story, which reaches people’s hearts, minds and souls if it is to be successful. We will be exploring the business of storytelling shortly on this blog.
  4. Get your followers to become brand representatives.  Their view of what you do is more important than your own and their marketing advocacy is free and more credible than that which you do yourself.  Amongst my various experiences with musicians, I sponsored a Spinal Tap inspired world tour for Punk Idol John Otway. Although the tour was a glorious failure, one of John’s great strengths is that his fanbase offer him an absolutely free marketing service and are passionate brand advocates.

An excellent 5th point arrived on Linkedin this morning, from Brian Shannon on the need to have a point of focus when managing multiple brands:

“When I was the VP of strategy for GlowWear. They had about 10 brand names they were trying to manage and the strategy was clear. Everybody buys clothes but the branding must match the demographic. Demographic = Brands”

Here’s a short video on branding:

Check out John Purkiss’ book on personal branding “Brand You” for some fascinating insights into personal branding.  Click on the picture to find out more:

Brand You

We finish with the title of this blog:

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About the Author:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk or +44 (0) 7725 927585.  Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.

TMOB Udemy ONLINE

Opportunity Lost or Gained?

I noticed this letter from “We Buy Any Car” to the owner of a “Playmobil Little Tikes Car” recently and was curious about how this came to be:

We buy any car, but not Playmobils

We buy any car … but not Playmobils …

Let’s re-imagine the scenario:

Instead of the letter above, We Buy Any Car could have decided to pay the full price of the Playmobil, perhaps deducting some money for ‘wear and tear’ 🙂 and then present the owner of the item with a cheque as part of a TV campaign for the company.  Better still, perhaps they might have presented the child with a bond to the value of the car to be redeemed on their 18th birthday as a downpayment for a real car … and so on.  Just think how the company could have turned this round to their advantage …  Just a little bit of creativity needed really.

Well, it transpires that the letter was fake, although the story went viral and it certainly fooled me at the time of writing this blog.  Here is the turnaround strategy via a spoof website called “We Buy Any Toy Car.com“.  This is a great response to the fake letter.

We buy any car's turnaround strategy

We buy any car’s turnaround strategy

What would have your preferred creative reversal of this opportunity for We Buy Any Car?  Post your thoughts here.

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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.  Contact via peter@humdyn.co.uk