Challenging Society’s Conventions – Lessons from Richard Branson’s Story

Richard Branson (Photo: buzz.bishop)

Richard Branson, a name and face a recognized in almost every corner of the world, is a source of great inspiration for all those who have been dispirited by the conventions of society.

If Richard Branson, a business tycoon worth more than four billion dollars today, had let the fire within him flicker off because his teachers told him he was incapable of achieving anything by virtue of his poor academic performance, Virgin, one of the biggest and most diverse corporations, would not exist.

I read Branson's book, Losing-My-Virginity, almost without stopping and it was probably one of the best biographies I have read. In this post I'll share some of the lessons I've learned from Branson's truly inspiring story.

Richard Branson Story

Richard Branson didn't become successful overnight.

His resume as a young man didn’t make a great impression: He suffered from dyslexia and had difficulty in reading and understanding certain concepts. His reading and math skills were poor and he left high school at sixteen.

What the school system failed to notice was Branson's exemplary interpersonal skills. Richard easily connected to people, heart to heart, and it is this skill that later laid the foundation for his uber successful business ventures.

Frustrated with the treatment meted out to him, and moved by the student revolutions raging in the 1960s when he was in college, Richard launched a student newspaper, "The Student", alongside his friend Johnny Gems.

The Student was a hit, with members of Parliament, rock stars, bigwig actors and highly respected intellectuals contributing their writings to the paper. “I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire,” said Richard’s college principal of him, congratulating him on the success of his newspaper.

Branson always recognizes opportunities when they cruise by him, and it was this innate business knack that helped him lay the foundation to what is today one of the world’s best known brands. In 1970, the British Government had abolished the Retail Price Maintenance Agreement, but major music stores refused to lower the price of their ware. Branson started a mail order discount music records business that progressed like wildfire.

The first chapter in the glorious story of Virgin is young Branson’s decision to set up the recording studio Virgin Records, fueled by the success of his discount records venture. The name “Virgin” was coined by a colleague who explained that they were all virgins in business, and thus the name was apt. Mike Oldfield’s instrumental compositions Tubular Bells topped charts in 1973, and stayed on the UK charts for almost 250 weeks.

Richard Branson is known for his boldness, be it his appetite for adventure sports, or for his unconventional business methods. Soon after the launch of Virgin Records, Branson signed on the controversial Sex Pistols, and went on to gain appreciation for publishing avant-garde works like that of Faust and Can. And thereon began a series of trend-setting achievements in the musical world.

Today, Virgin is a brand whose assortment of businesses includes airways, publishing and distributing books, music supermarkets, credit cards, holiday planning, fitness clubs and recently, countering global warming.

The empire called Virgin Group is made of 200 companies that function independently with different boards. However, all these companies have something in common: the collective knowledge and experience.

Lessons from Richard Branson's Story

Richard was courageous, imaginative and determined and these are some of the qualities that led to his success. What is more significant is that it is his personal traits that went unnoticed by the uni-dimensional exams of the educational systems that contributed to his meteoric rise to fame.

His self-confidence, refusal to give in and readiness to challenge largely accepted norms became the fertile grounds on which success blossomed.

"For me business is not about wearing suits, or keeping stockholders pleased. It's about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials." This is the outlook Richard had on his business.

This is not to say that the man never second guesses himself or doubts his decisions at times. What counts is that he never let self-doubt hinder him from trying, and he refused to let stigmas of the society pull him down. His achievements were borne of the faith he had in himself, and no amount of ridicule could rob him of that faith.

If a man suffering from dyslexia could go on to found a megabrand with a plethora of businesses beneath its umbrella, than others can overcome their obstacles and emerge victorious, too.

It is the individual who decides what he/she is capable of, not society.

 

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