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The art of delegation

Richard Branson's top 20 Virgin inspirational insights

I am often asked how I manage to keep my finger on the pulse with so many different companies and ideas to think about. This is all about the art of delegation. From a very early time, when we went from one company to two companies, I realised I couldn't do everything myself. I had to learn the art of delegation and try to find people who are better than me to run the companies – that wasn't that difficult!

Also, finding people who are more managerially-inclined rather than entrepreneurially-inclined was important. So from an early age I would always try to put myself out of business so I would be free to think about how to take the Virgin Group into a new era. One of the jobs was to find a great managing director for the Virgin Group, which I did in Stephen Murphy.

Another important task is to make sure the companies don't get too big too quickly. If anything, we have a bias to keep things smaller rather than larger. The feeling and the way that we run them, with delegation that we push down into the companies, is not a very corporate fashion. We tend to manage our businesses in a much more delegated style, where we empower the managements to manage.

The record company division was quite a good example. Where we had 100 people in a record company. I would go in and ask to see the deputy managing director, the deputy sales manager, the deputy marketing manager and say: "You are now the managing director, the marketing manager, the sales manager of a new company and you can take 50 people from this company and go to another building."

Then when those two companies got to another 100 people each we did it again. In the Notting Hill Gate area we ended up having 18 different record companies. 18 different switchboards too, we didn't try to save on central costs. With the combination of them put together, we had the biggest independent record company in the world – the fifth biggest overall.

We would have never got there if we just had one manager; we couldn't have been creative in that environment. It worked extremely well for us. We haven't managed to do that in all companies ever since, but we try to keep that general feeling as much as we can within the Virgin Group.


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