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

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

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.

 

Halloween ROCKS

DATELINE: Halloween SATURDAY 31 OCT 2015, 3.00 – 3.45 pm

I’m launching the first in a series of inspirational events at The Virgin Money Lounge in London’s Haymarket. I will be hosting an interview, Q&A, meet and greet and guitar masterclass with Bernie Tormé, legendary guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, a former Virgin Records’ artist. This is part of Bernie’s UK Tour to mark the launch of his new album “Blackheart”. Book yourself into the event at the Virgin Money Lounge, prior to Bernie’s gig at London’s Borderline on the same evening, where I’ll be joining him on stage for a few numbers. Come to the party !!

ONLY 15 Spaces left – book your place at the lounge via e-mail peter@humdyn.co.uk

Bernie’s tour is itself unusual in so far that it has been entirely funded by his fans all over the world using “crowdfunding”. Fans paid in advance for albums, t-shirts, guitar lessons, jam sessions with the band, studio experience days and even formed a “virtual gothic choir”, singing into their phones and having their voices transposed onto some of the album tracks in the studio.

What did Bernie learn from working with The Osbournes?

As it is Halloween, no doubt Bernie will be performing various pagan rituals to celebrate saints and sinners in the deathly hallows of rock. Only joking !! Do expect to hear some sonically unique guitar playing informed by Jimi Hendrix amongst a cast of giants, plus Bernie’s unique fusion of the blues, psychedelia and traditional Irish folk music.

Innovators in business and music – Jobs, Hendrix, Branson and Clapton – artwork by the very talented Simon Heath @SimonHeath1 

We will also be discussing lessons from life on the road with the Prince of Darkness himself, Mr Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, a former Virgin Records’ artist. There is much to learn in business and leadership from the School of Hard Knocks and Bernie’s insights are priceless.

This is the first of a series of events for Virgin. We have follow up events booked with Jess and the Bandits, currently touring the UK and the nation’s TV screens and others with Aaron Keylock, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Patti Russo, Meatloaf’s singing partner and, who knows …. Come Lounge With Me on Halloween. It’s not about the money … it’s only rock’n’roll but you will like it – I presently learning “No Easy Way” from “Glory Road” in preparation for a possible guitar duelling session …

Punk Rock Money – Banking with Attitude

****************************

Some of Bernie Tormé’s insights into the creative process and an interview with Sir Richard Branson feature in our forthcoming book for Bloomsbury, Leading Creativity, Innovation and Enterprise. Order your copy now by clicking the image:

Come Lounge With Me … and Jess and The Bandits

Jess and The Bandits

Jess and The Bandits

Come lounge with me at the Virgin Money Lounge at 1 Eagle Place, London on Friday November 6th at 3.00 pm for a very special event with upcoming Country Rock band Jess and The Bandits, a feisty five-piece Country Rock band from the Wild West (Houston, Texas and Bristol, Somerset). Here’s the invite from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

Come Lounge With Jess and The Bandits

Come Lounge With Jess and The Bandits – 1 Eagle Place, London

We’ll have an interview, Q&A, mini performance and meet and greet with the band. This is the second of our series, following Bernie Tormé on Halloween at 3.00 pm – ooh er – oh yes and the events are completely free.  Catch Jess and the band on her first UK headlining tour at UK TOUR. I’ll be at London’s Borderline on Thursday October 29th if you want to meet up for some great music and a drink.

UK Tour Dates - Click for more information

UK Tour Dates – Click for more information

See Jess and a bandit from Bristol talking in our interview and some of their fantastic music:

************************************

Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock, where business meets music.

Check out our current book The Music of Business, which explores parallels between music and business. You may now pre-order our next major work “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise” with Bloomsbury, featuring interviews with Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson amongst others.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 14.51.48

Business Leadership Rocks Warsaw

I was delighted to travel to Warsaw to deliver a Leadership Programme in partnership with The Pure Sky Club, Bentley, Lafarge, Businessman Today, Legimi, AntyRadio and Quadrilion Art Gallery. Our agenda was:

The Music of Business – exploring parallel lessons between music and business.

Far from the madding crowd

Far from the madding crowd – with Paul Cowen, Agnieszka Kupczynski, Filip Sobiecki and Brian McBride

Personal Transformation – delivered by Federico Tonetti, Director General, Lafarge. Lafarge is well known as a manufacturer of cement products but even its business model has been rocked to the foundations by disruptive forces. Federico presented a compelling vision of transformation and explained how it could be translated into a corporate context.

In my Madonna hed gear - at the Pure Sky Club - photos by Piotr Myzskowski

In my Madonna head gear – at the Pure Sky Club – photos by Piotr Myzskowski

The Mathematics of Trust – delivered by Sebastian Kotow, Quadrilion Art Gallery. Sebastian is a business psychologist with specific interests in management decision making and bias.

Punk Rock People Management – a look at the strategic and practical management of people through the medium of punk rock – shorter, simpler and more authentic business and HR.

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The madding crowd at the aftershow at Pure Sky Club

The Virgin Way – a look at the Culture and Leadership practices of the Virgin group, informed by the work I’ve done for Virgin in the last year or so.

Plus an exclusive gala dinner at The Pure Sky Club hosted by Paul Cowen, a panel session hosted by Brian Allan and an after party featuring the best Polish rock bands in the capital.

Here’s one of the slide decks from the event and a video from the warm up event at Quadrilion:

I’m most grateful to Brian Allan, Malgorzata Krukowska, Filp Sobieki, Sebastian Kotow and Paul Cowen for arranging everything.

****************************************************************************************
Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of eight books on leadership and creativity as it applies to business. His latest offerings “Punk Rock People Management” – 2nd Edition and a NEW edition of “The Music of Business” may be ordered now.

Connect with us on our Linkedin Company Page and join our group The Music of Business where we discuss parallel lessons from Business and Music.

Never Mind The Credit Card

Virgin Money

In a classic piece of disruptive innovation in branding, Virgin Money just introduced a credit card based on the iconic logos of the Sex Pistols’ designs for “Anarchy in the UK” and “Never Mind the Boll….cks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”. Virgin Money’s CEO and Marketing Director were talking with me about the card and you can read all about Virgin’s latest move at Never Mind The Bankers.

“We want to get rid of the bollocks in banking and to be simple, open, transparent and fair”

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Virgin Money’s CEO

As is Sir Richard Branson’s way, Virgin challenges norms, having disrupted British Airway’s cosy relationship with the British Government in the 1980’s when they launched Virgin Atlantic. I’ve been chatting about the credit card concept to people from several walks of life to find out how they see the strategy. It becomes clear that Virgin have succeeded in polarising views from different segments of society:

Some of my “arty” friends are “appalled at the theft of punk’s pure clothes for the purposes of banking”. I guess this is the punk rock version of “Angry of Camden”:

Some of my banking friends are “outraged at the use of street culture to demean the upper class world of banking”. I guess this will soon appear in a letter to the Financial Times from a man or a woman in a bowler hat living in Surbiton:

 

The point of the matter is that Sir Richard Branson has succeeded on every level, gaining publicity through disruptive thinking.

I answer my arty friends thus:

“All good disruption eventually becomes part of the mainstream. Check out the punk fashion in Claire’s Accessories if you don’t believe me”

I answer my banking friends thus:

“It’s about time banking woke up to customers, mainly in terms of substance e.g. convenience, simplicity, but a bit of style would also do no harm”

So, I think this is an incredibly shrewd and clever move on the part of Virgin to cast a shadow on the battleship grey industry that is banking. It’s a marvellous piece of market segmentation that gains publicity and viral value through controversy. Let’s see the masters of controversy in action:

The Virgin Battleship Building – Not Grey

Come to our next masterclass event in Warsaw on 23/24 June, where we’ll be discussing Punk Rock, Disruptive Innovation and The Virgin Way amongst many other things in a day of inspired intelligence and fun. Grab your ticket here.

Peter Cook is author of “The Music of Business” and “Punk Rock People Management” which simplify business leadership, creativity and innovation, strategic thinking and people management for busy people.

Check out the books at Cultured Llama.