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Leadership lessons from Richard Branson’s mum

A friend of mine who works at Virgin Atlantic said to me a long while ago “Richard Branson’s mum is the reason he is like he is, you know; why he expects people to take the initiative to do the right thing, to be creative and responsible but to have fun and take chances, too.”

I didn’t understand what she meant till I read these two anecdotes from Branson, below:

Find your own way home

“When I was four years old, Mum stopped the car a few miles from our house and told me to find my own way home across the fields. She made it a game, one I was happy to play. It was an early challenge.

As I grew older, these lessons grew harder. Early one winter morning, Mum shook me awake and told me to get dressed. It was dark and cold, but I crawled out of bed. I was given a packed lunch and an apple. ‘I’m sure you’ll find some water along the way,’ Mum said, as she waved me off on a fifty-mile bike ride to the south coast.

It was still dark when I set off on my own. I spent the night with a relative and returned home the next day. When I walked into the kitchen at home, I felt very proud. I was sure I would be greeted with cheers. Instead, Mum said, ‘Well done, Ricky. Was that fun? Now run along: the vicar wants you to chop some logs for him.’

To some people this might sound harsh. But the members of my family love and care for each other very much. We are a close-knit unit. My parents wanted us to be strong and to rely on ourselves.”

How to start an airline

You can see how that ‘Find your own way home, Ricky and have fun doing it’ spirit fostered by Branson’s mum helped to shape Branson as he grew older, in this anecdote, from later in his life:

“Our plan was to travel on to Puerto Rico – but when we got to the airport, the flight was cancelled. People were roaming about, looking lost. No one was doing anything. So I did – someone had to.

I chartered a plane for about $2,000. I divided that by the number of people. It came to $39 a head. I borrowed a blackboard and wrote on it:


….I had never chartered a plane before.”

I love that “I had never chartered a plane before”.

I spent part of our family summer holiday reading Richard Branson’s autobiography Losing My Virginity (thanks for the loan of the book, Brom), which is where these two anecdotes come from.

The stories give you an insight into the Virgin employee culture of personal leadership, taking responsibility, innovation and customer-centredness that clearly comes direct from Branson (and from his Mum).

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