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Prof. Peter Fisk      

Global Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Expert Advisor at Creating Innovative Business Futures

Peter Fisk is inspirational, provocative and practical. He helps business leaders to see the world of business and brands, marketing and innovation in new ways. He was recently described by Business Strategy Journal as "one of the best new business thinkers", and also features in the Thinkers 50 Guru Radar.

Bestselling author, his first book "Marketing Genius" explores the left and right-brain challenges of success, and is translated into 35 languages. It was followed by five others, most recently "Creative Genius" defining what it takes to be Leonardo da Vinci in the 21 Century. He has also written books on leadership and strategy, customers and experiences, and sustainable innovation.

His new book "Gamechangers ... Are you ready to change the world?" is now out, based on extensive research into the 100 companies who are shaking up markets, and making sense of how they innovate and win. It explores the challenges of new markets, changing customers, brand building, digital media, new business models, inspiring leadership and positive impact.

From nuclear physics Peter moved to managing brands like Concorde at British Airways, and through American Express and Microsoft got to know what works in the real world. As CEO of the world's largest marketing organisation, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he became a global authority on what's best and next.

He now leads then GeniusWorks, an international accelerated innovation firm, working with clients including Aeroflot and Coca Cola, Nestle and Red Bull, Tata and Virgin, Visa and Vodafone. He combines keynote speaking with strategic consulting, facilitated venturing and executive development.

Contact him at [email protected]

Speech Topics

Marketing Themes ... Examples:

Marketing Genius. How would Einstein and Picasso do marketing today? “Ubuntu!” The new language of marketing in a collaborative world. Marketing by Apple to Zappos … discover the secrets of the new market leaders. Key issues:

How do you stand out, change mindsets, engage people, and sell more? Rethinking marketing in global, networked and intelligent markets Connecting your left-brain analysis and right-brain intuition

Innovation themes ... Examples:

Creative Genius. How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. The Magic and Madness of Madonna and Morita. Future Back. A better approach to innovation. Key issues:

Rethinking innovation in a technological, collaborative and high-speed world. Creativity that is “future back” to overcome the limitations of mindset and markets 50 innovations of the 21st Century that are currently changing our world

Customer Themes ... Examples:

Customer Genius. How to build a customer-centric business. Designing and delivering extraordinary customer service and experiences. The Consumer Agenda. 10 trends that are changing your world. Key issues:

Declining trust, rising promiscuity. Welcome to my world, when where and how I want. Customer insights. Responding to the issues and trends that matter most. Harnessing the groundswell of customer networks, collaboration and social media.

Brand Themes

Sample themes:

Brand Genius. The Yin and Yang of Extraordinary Brands What’s in an Apple, Orange and Blackberry? Brand Optimisation. Managing your brand, architecture and portfolio for maximum impact Key issues:

The slow decline of Coca Cola, the rise and fall of Starbucks, and the death of brands. Brands are about people and aspirations, but too often they still describe companies and products. Promise and reality, engaging people in a low-trust, high-expectation, social media world.

Sustainability Themes

Sample themes:

People Planet Profit … embracing sustainability for innovation and business growth Sustainable Innovation. Resolving the Paradox How to be Good (and Grow) Key issues:

Social and environmental issues are hot topics, but most business see them as compliance How can you embrace them as your best source of innovation and profitable growth? Moving sustainable innovation from CSR to the business mainstream.

Digital Themes

Sample themes:

Winning in a digital world. Turning the new technologies into competitive advantage. The exponential power of networked markets, customers and brands Business 3.0 … lean forwards not back, and dive in. Key issues:

Capturing the potential of digital technologies – websites and networks, blogs and tweets? Building hybrids that connect physical and virtual to deliver a better customer experience. Engaging digital natives in established brands, Generation X and Generation Y

Downturn Themes

Sample themes:

Winning in a downturn … how to seize the opportunities of change. Rethink … Reset, Rethink, Restart … 50 Strategies for winning in times of crisis and change Key issues:

Like Edison in 1878, HP in 1929, Microsoft in 1975, now is the time for new thinking. Understanding the market and consumer changes that are accelerated by economic crisis. Preparing for the upturn, understanding what has changed, focusing on what matters most

Strategy Themes

Sample themes:

Game changing. The invisible trends that have changed our world. The Future of Business. A more inspired approach to value creation. Ideas. Ideas. Ideas. The new competitive advantage. Key issues:

Power has shifted from west to east, big to small, mass to niche, business to customer Markets are global, connected and convergent. Trust is low, transparency is high. Success is not based on capabilities and scale, but on ideas and focus.

Leadership Themes

Sample themes:

The New Business Leaders … the five factors essential to lead anybody Leadership and Management. What’s the difference? Gamechangers … Business leaders who shape the world in their own vision Key issues:

What does it take to be a leader in times of turbulence and change? Leadership is about inspiring direction.

GAMECHANGERS: Are you ready to change your world?

How will you win in fast-changing markets? What is your vision for 2020, and how will you harness the change drivers to make it happen? What is your distinctive space, and how will you outthink the competition?

What is your purpose that guides you, and brand that inspires you? How can you innovate your business model to find new revenue streams and create more value? How can you innovate your customer experience to engage people more deeply, and enable them to achieve more? How do you harness social media and digital networks to connect people and do more together? And how are you changing as a leader to amplify the potential of your people and business?

From Alibaba to Zappos, Aeromobil to Zipcars, we explore 100 of the world's most disruptive innovators - big and small, digital and physical, new and old - to apply their best ideas and insights to your business. To help you find a better future, and prepare to change your world.


Inspired Business: The Creativity of Pixar

Pixar is an amazing business. Built on imagination and creativity, it harnesses the potential of digital technologies to create the most engaging characters and films. In 1979 Star Wars creator George Lucas and computer scientist Ed Catmull established the foundations of what was initially a digitally-enabled special effects business. Seven years later Steve Jobs acquired the studio, renamed it Pixar, and gave birth to some of the most successful animated films – like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Today it is one of the world’s most successful businesses. Brands need bigger ambitions Similarly today’s most successful brands have moved on from special effects and advertising, much more than a name and logo, to be an enduring narrative, to embrace the digital and human world, to capture the creative and emotional essence of a business and its customers. Marketers are no longer support functions for sales, or brief writers for creative agencies. They are the creative talent, making sense of the world around them, turning insights into ideas into innovations. They are the driving force of business, the champion of customers, and the guardians of incredibly valuable assets called brands. From Apple to Zappos, Abercrombie and Fitch to Better Place, Paul Smith and Shanghai Tang, Air Asia and Virgin Galactic… the most successful brands have bigger ambitions. The best brands don’t limit themselves to what they do, they are not just labels of ownership, distinguishing one commoditised product or service from another. They define themselves on customer’s terms, about their aspirations and applications – about benefits rather than features, if you like. These brands recognise the wider impact they can have on customers and society, rather than just communicating relevance and difference at the point of sale. They define what they enable, rather than what they are. In fact they are more than communication tools. They give business purpose, shared with customers. They give people confidence, bring people together, and enable them to achieve more. They make life better. World changing, game changing Why is it not enough for a brand to be a passive name, with a distinctive logo, a trademark that rarely changes, a packaging or communication device? To answer this we need to look at how the world, its markets, and attitudes have changed. As Pablo Picasso said, “times of turbulence are the most exciting times, because everything changes”. Look around us everything is changing at incredible speed … customer priorities, competitive positions, commercial structures, have all been shaken up. Markets are no longer absolute, bordered and predictable. This is a world in need of a new approach to branding, and different ways of activating and managing them. You might call it a “VUCA world” – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – but at the same time vibrant, unreal, crazy and astounding … a time to keep your head down, avoid risk and change, or a time to look at the amazing opportunities all around us? We all now compete in global, always-on markets, whether we intend to, or not. Sectors converge and new whitespaces emerge. Customers have incredibly high demands and expectations, but little trust or loyalty. Disruption is normal, uncertainty is expected. Virtuality is the reality, combining speed, interactivity and reach. At the same time, business is more human than ever, emotional and empathetic. Whilst many of us struggle to shake-off the hangover of the economic downturn, others realise that it was just the crying pains of a changing world. Seismic shifts in power and influence have changed the rules of our game. The shift from west to east is not just about money, but about knowledge and culture too. The hot fashions are in Buenos Aires, the best green tech is in Shanghai, the top web designers in Mumbai, and the most venture capital in Shenzen. Technology has empowered customers like never before – more informed, more choice, and more promiscuous. Brands need to redefine themselves in terms of what they do for people, and then deliver it on customers terms – when, where and how they want. Collaboration (in the forms of crowd sourcing, co-creation and partnerships) with customers, supplier, distributor and affinity brands has become the norm – creating more flexibility, and helping to build more relevant and engaging solutions. Markets have fragmented with more specialism, yet still large when considered globally. Being special to niche markets is far better than being average to everyone (and special to nobody). New markets emerge, as categories collide, and new possibilities emerge. Gone are the rigid market boundaries, the notion of your home market being the closest to you, and of customers and competitors as absolutes. Gone is the assumption that the future is an extrapolation of your past. Are you focused on the big opportunities? And if not, why not? Over the next 5 years, female consumers will grow faster than China and India. Within 20 years, the E7 (Brazil, Russia, India and China – plus Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey) will be bigger than G7, renting will replace buying, education and healthcare will transform, sustainability will be compulsory, and water will be the new gold. Our marketing metrics have to change too. Market share, for example, becomes largely irrelevant. Profit is no longer a consequence of volume. Share price is about potential more than performance. Value networks, enabled by the likes of Alibaba and Li & Fung, replace the need for owned production, and the headache of inflexible production costs. 3D printing enables real customisation of cars and clothing, design and manufacturing for cents and within hours. Forget core competencies, you can do anything you want. Welcome to the ideas world The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Ideas become the currency of success. New markets, like smartphones, are waiting to be defined. Nobody wanted to play on a Nintendo Wii until Shigeru Miyamoto designed it. Nobody needed an iPad until Jonny Ive delivered it. Ideas need to be bigger and better than ever before. The best ideas capture the attention of customers with infinite choice. Viral ideas spread freely between people – rather than being pushed at audiences through interruptive campaigns using expensive, passive media. In this ideas world, beating the competition is nothing to do with the size of your business, or your marketing budget, but about thinking smarter. Out-thinking competitors is achieved by seeing the future more clearly, bringing together the right partners and networks to secure it, better understanding emerging issues and insights and developing the most compelling propositions and experiences. Brands are about ideas, marketers are the creative talent. Pixar, therefore, is a fabulous metaphor for brand-building and marketing in this new world. Like the best movies, brands are about ideas more than effects, stories more than icons, enabled by software more than hardware, touching people more deeply, and memorably. Building a creative business Emeryville lies just across the bay from San Francisco, and this is where the story of Pixar, Buzz and Woody, Nemo …and Mickey Mouse too, unfolds… Steve Jobs is much more than a tech geek. He is a man of extreme vision, creativity and commerce, and ability to get the best out of people. In 1986, having temporarily let go of his Apple passion (that’s a different story!), he set about transforming his newly acquired animation business. He moved it from making and selling hardware, to designing and distributing software. He brought in John Lasseter who had a background in off-beat mini-animations, to drive his vision into reality. The two men shared a vision, not just of how they could make great movies, but of how they could transform an industry, bringing together the best technologies with a human touch (maybe an echo of the iPod, a decade later). After much rethinking and developing, in particular perfecting the proprietary Renderman animation process, and funded by making quirky ads for Kellogg’s and IBM, Pixar was ready to take on the world. Christmas 1995 saw the much anticipated launch of Toy Story. It received tremendous critical acclaim, generating $362 million in worldwide box office receipts and earning Lasseter an Oscar and Academy Award. On its success, Lasseter built a creative team of highly skilled animators, a story department and an art department. But he didn’t just want great technicians, he wanted people with insight and imagination. He sought animators with superior acting ability, people who could sense how characters and audiences would feel, deeply and emotionally. The new Pixar University quickly became the training school for animators from around the world, and Pixar developed complete creative teams in-house, whilst the non-creative tasks were outsourced. More blockbuster animations quickly followed … A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The six films combined grossed more than $3.5 billion at box offices worldwide, the most successful animated films of all time. With each success, Pixar learnt more and invested in its process, brands and audiences. It revolutionised the technology of filmmaking, it transformed the expectations of audiences, and it gave children (and adults) across the world, a new genre of heroes. Mickey meets Monsters Inc. In 2006, Pixar became a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company in a $7.4 billion deal that saw Jobs, who was the majority shareholder of Pixar with 50.1%, take a seat on Disney’s board of directors, and with 7% of all stock, the largest individual Disney shareholder. A new brand name “Disney·Pixar” was created, and as Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Lasseter reports directly to Disney CEO Bob Iger. He became responsible not just for Pixar, but the entire creative activity of the group. Creative fusion Pixar Studios has evolved into a workspace that defines and inspires the creative process. Jobs was never a great movie maker, but he knew how to bring 1200 creative people, and their collective talents, together. Pixar Studios are like a fusion of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, just like Pixar is a fusion of technology and entertainment, art and commerce. Just like in the Googleplex at Mountain View, or Nike Campus in Portland, Pixar Studios has been described as a corporate playground with its own rules and rituals. Lasseter describes these in a very simple way 1. Dream like a child – without prejudice or inhibition, live in a world where anything is possible, and the more fantastic the better. 2. Believe in your playmates – see the best in people, see them as the best people in the world, and together as a team that can do anything. 3. Dare to jump into the water and make waves – don’t be afraid to break new ground, to challenge conventions, break rules, or do what hasn’t been done. 4. Unleash your childlike potential – don’t just think like a child, make those wild ideas happen too. So what can brands learn from Pixar? Pixar is a digital content business, and in many ways that’s what brands are today. Beyond the products and services which they support, brands are about ideas, stories, relationships and communities, and the capturing and sharing of them increasingly digitally, virtual experiences which become reality. The parallels for brands and marketing are everywhere in Pixar … the pivotal role of the CCO and the creative team within the business, the primacy of audience, the bringing together of talents, the nurturing of ideas, the building of personality, the pursuit of compelling narratives, the dreams and emotions, always delivering on time and to budget. And a relentless stream of success. Maybe brands need to own more of their own creativity, rather than being subservient to their agencies. Maybe they need to immerse themselves deeper in the world they are trying to simulate and stimulate, to challenge each other, to unlock and mesh their talents, in a more sustained and evolving way. Indeed the marketing departments of Apple and Zappos are more like creative studios, the hub of business thinking, delivering strategies and innovations, as well as brands and communication. Lassiter describes the process as “telling a great story, but not too predictably” maybe like a marketing programme needs to evolve rather than be a series of quickly discarded campaigns. He talks of “taking people to another world” which equates to the ability to reframe brands in contexts that have more relevance for audiences, and more scope commercially. He talks about “characters that people develop a deep bond with” which is at the heart of building an emotional connection, doing more for people, creating a brand they love. Of course, it is the whole story of Pixar which is a lesson for brands today, not just the way in which Pixar themselves use their brands. Few brands, few marketing leaders, can have achieved the success of Lassiter and his team, either in terms of global awards or commercial results. Most important, is to apply the lessons of Pixar’s creative process to the challenge of brand building. This is where many marketers are falling behind, and where many business leaders fail to recognise its importance and impact. Defining the 21st century brand The digital and global, transparent and collaborative world demands branding that does more for people. Brands are more than companies, products and services. Brands are more than names, logos and communications. Brands reach beyond transactions and markets. In a world where image and reputation can be built, and destroyed, in an instant, brands need to be stronger, richer, and in the hands of the beholder. This is why the movie making analogy is useful, and why today’s best brands are “ABCDE”, that is: Aspirational – Brands capture the dreams and desires of their audience, what they seek to achieve, rather than simply labelling a business, product or service. They establish a richer, more relevant context, based around their application and potential. They are about them (the people) not us (the business). Bold – Brands are more ambitious, they challenge the norm, they stand out from others and go where others fear or have never imagined. They are iconic, or at least use icons to demonstrate their purpose. They are talked about, questioned, explored and loved, because they are different. Connecting – Brands build communities, because people ultimately enjoy being with others like them, people who share a similar passion, purpose or experience. Customers don’t want relationships with companies or products, but they do value brands that facilitate their ability to connect and do more with others. Dramatic – beyond names and logos, product or services, brands have a strong and distinctive idea that is brought to life in more meaningful ways. They capture a shared purpose, supported by values which come alive through attitudes and behaviours. The ideas can cross markets and categories, supporting innovation and growth, even with different identities. Enabling – Brands do more for people, giving them functional means and emotional confidence to do what they never thought possible. Awareness and purchase are just the beginnings of a deeper brand experience. Advocacy, repurchase and ongoing collaboration are steps to a brand to live your life by. To infinity, and beyond Brands are the most valuable assets in business today, and marketers the most valuable talent. Success in a VUCA world depends on how you think, how you seize the potential of technology and opportunities of new markets, and how bold and ambitious you are. A great brand can come from anywhere … big company or small, emerging nation or developed, young marketers or experienced leaders, limitless budgets or almost none. It’s not about what you are, but how you think.

Peter Fisk's exclusive Richard Branson interview

Peter Fisk interviews the Virgin entrepreneur – about his secrets and passions, hopes and fears, childhood and lifestyle, businesses and charities – and his dreams to come. This feature by world-renowned strategic consultant, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Peter Fisk, is the sixth article in a series to be regularly published in ArabAd. Richard Branson is an inspiration to many, the champion of customers and hero of many business people. The Virgin founder is a maverick entrepreneur and hippy billionaire, adventurer and philanthropist. He is always looking for new ways to do more for people, and to create a better world. I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with him -to explore what drives him, what matters most to hiam, and what comes next in his amazing life. Losing his virginity He is one of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs, the loveable underdog with the shaggy beard and chunky jumpers, or the loathed self-publicist out to pick a fight with big business. Yet he is one of the most successful business people of our generation, a fantastic guy who really cares about his people and his customers, and is now spending most of his time trying to make a positive difference to the world. No one can argue with his survival instincts. From cash crisis in his businesses to ballooning in the jet stream at 180 mph without enough fuel, he talks about “setting myself huge and apparently unachievable tasks, and trying to rise above them” Born in 1950 in Blackheath, London, Branson excelled at sports although his mild dyslexia meant that he struggled academically. His first business ideas, formed in the school library involved Christmas trees and budgerigars, and writing stories about his sexual conquests. They didn’t take off, but then in 1967 his idea for a magazine called Student did. He sold advertising space from the telephone box outside his school during break times, and was soon able to publish the first issue. He used to ask the telephone operator to connect him to potential clients, making it appear that she was his secretary. With the help of star interviews with the likes of Mick Jagger, using the operator trick, the magazine became a hit. He left Stowe school at 16 with his headmaster predicting that he would either go to prison or become a millionaire. He did both. He became an entrepreneur out of the need to earn money to keep Student afloat. He had long ago used the $7 “investment” from his mother, and from his London squat he hatched his next business plan. He started selling discount records by mail order through the magazine, a novel concept at the time. He named it Virgin Mail Order, “because it was run by a bunch of business virgins” and the brand was born. Orders streamed in, although at the age of 21 he was briefly arrested and jailed for exporting records without paying the correct taxes. He did a deal with customs and was released. Virgin launched its first record store in 1971 in London’s Oxford Street. Then he built a recording studio in Oxfordshire and launched his own record label. Mike Oldfield (who made Branson his first million be recording Tubular Bells) and the Sex Pistols (who got him into jail again, briefly for bad language) were his first signings, followed y Phil Collins, Boy George and Janet Jackson. When an American lawyer approached him with the idea of starting a new airline in 1984, Branson really got excited. Setting up Virgin Atlantic was his most risky and most lucrative achievement. “My proudest moment” he says “taking on the world’s airlines with one Jumbo, and not much idea of what to do next”. Today there are around 450 Virgin companies, most of them being joint ventures, operating independently with their own boards. Collectively generating more than £10 billion revenues annually, “and the largest private company in Europe” he adds, proudly. His ventures range from airlines to trains, mobile phones to financial services, modelling agency to bridal wear, hotels to ski resorts, wine to cosmetics, and space travel. Virgin Media, the integrated television, broadband and phone business is perhaps his biggest challenge today, keeping pace with the speed of technological change and the investments required to succeed in it. However smart thinking always helps, Virgin Mobile in UK and later in the USA being the first to be “virtual operators” by leasing spare capacity on other companies’ installed networks. The Virgin Group is more like a venture capital firm, using funds from existing companies to build new ones, making use of existing assets and resources, from the Virgin to seconding his best people across companies. He has seven close “right hand men” who sit on the boards of each Virgin business, and come together to share ideas, nurture the brand, and ensure that the Virgin group is not missing a trick. Meanwhile the 50,000 Virgin employees love their leader, and indeed many get the chance to join him for a weekend on Neckar. He loves to spend time with his people, whether at work or at a party with them. Whilst he is relaxed, informal and always looking for fun, he is always listening too. Listening for an idea, a suggestion, the next adventure. Whilst he only spends a third of his personal time on his businesses these days, this is split between creative thinking – what to do next, why not to do things – and being the public face of his brand. Whilst his hot air ballooning trips around the world have been well documented, another stunt had him rolling around in agony on wasteland near Mumbai airport, shot by a jealous lover called Rocky. Thankfully the leather-clad hero eventually climbed to his feet, revealing the mobile phone in his pocket that had just “saved his life”. In the latest ad for Virgin Media he plays a plastic surgeon, offering to enhance the assets of Spice Girl Mel B, whilst it’s hard to forget that he promoted an Australian venture by pretending to be fellated in a Jacuzzi (just think "down under" and you'll get it). Branson’s personal fortune is estimated at £2.7 billion according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2008, kept in a labyrinth of offshore family trusts. He is married to his second wife “the best decision he ever made” and has two children. They are a close family, and indeed his father, Ted, a retired magistrate is frequently at his son’s side. In the green room, before the London event Ted tells the story of his worst moment with Richard “We had the champagne on ice, well actually we’d already started drinking it. Richard was about to complete his round the world ballooning trip, when we suddenly heard that he had crashed into the sea just off Ireland. For quite some time, nobody knew his fate, and the champagne was left to go flat”. There have been many similar heart stopping moments like that, says Ted. His life is now being made into a Miramax film, with Branson pleased that Hollywood’s leading men including Brad Pitt are being considered for the lead role. Branson live and unplugged Meeting Branson was an incredible experience. He’s a hero who I have watched, dismissed, admired, worked for, talked about, laughed at, but never failed to be impressed by. Bono, the U2 singer, said that there are two people who light up a room like nobody else – Bill Clinton and Richard Branson. He walked in the door. We were alone. We were backstage before the London Business Forum. My task was to spend the next 2 hours interviewing him in front of 3500 people. He’d heard about my new book, and wanted to see it. Next he was asking if he could take a copy and if I could sign it for him. I thought this was supposed to work the other way. He’s an incredibly relaxed, interested and nice guy. He wanted to know what I thought of Virgin sponsoring the London Marathon (fantastic) and of fellow entrepreneur, Alan Sugar (not so fantastic). He’s an incredibly good listener. He brought along his father too, well into his nineties. This was a special day for Richard because his Dad was there too. It was nearly time to go on stage. He wished me luck, and gave me a hug. I thought I was supposed to be looking after him. Mike Oldfield played his Tubular Bells and we were on stage. Fisk: What’s a typical week for you, what do you actually do? Branson: I’m very lucky to have a full and fascinating life. Last night I ended up at four different parties. I don’t often get jaded, which is fortunate. Every day is full on. Even on a Friday night, like tonight, when others are taking it easy, I’m off to Kenya to celebrate a peace accord. Every day is very diverse, always different and incredibly interesting. Today, for example, we launched our sponsorship of the London Marathon which is already phenomenally successful. There is no event in the world that raises as much money for charities, with around 50000 people running it, and five times as many people watching it. We want to build on David Bedford’s success, making more of the money raising and fun aspects – maybe even throwing the world’s biggest party afterwards, if people are still up for it after 26 miles. I have one wonderful girl who looks after me. However I look after my own diary, which I find much more efficient, and helps me to make the most of every moment of my time. I try to keep a balance too in my personal life. Keeping fit is incredibly important. I love swimming and playing tennis. Fisk: Tell us about your childhood, and what influenced you? Branson: Whilst I loved sport and was very good at it, most academic things at school passed me by. My teachers believed I was dyslexic although I was never tested for it. One implication was that, right up until the age of 50 whilst running the largest private company in Europe, I still couldn’t grasp the difference between gross and net profit. It made board meetings quite bizarre. Eventually one of my directors drew me a picture – he drew an ocean showing a net with fish in it which we could take home, explaining that everything else, all the rest of the turnover, goes elsewhere. At 15 I started my Student magazine because I wanted to show that kids could learn in different ways, to campaign against the Vietnam war at the time, and to show people what I could do. In my first editorial, I wrote about how I wanted to change the world. Fisk: Music, airlines and mobiles ... what are you most proud of? Branson: Building Virgin Atlantic against all the odds. Somebody once said that the easiest way to become a millionaire is to start off as a billionaire and go into the airline business. The whole idea started when I was trying to get from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico one day, and American Airlines canceled their flight, and bumped me. So I went around the back and managed to charter a plane, returning with a blackboard saying ‘Virgin Airways, $39 one way to Puerto Rico’ which I held it up to the stranded passengers, and filled up the plane. When I got home, I rang up Boeing and said that I’m Richard Branson from Virgin, the company that brought you the sex pistols and rolling stones. They had no idea who I was, but didn’t put the phone down, saying that as long as we don’t live up to our name, and go all the way, they’d send over a sales rep. A few months later we had a good quality, second hand 747. Because I’d already learnt to manage the downside, I managed to negotiate an option to hand the plane back after 12 months if we needed. I recognised that we could lose a lot of money on the venture, but not enough to bring the music business down. We didn’t need to hand it back and instead order a second. The airline epitomises Virgin – it’s fun, great quality, you can see the people who work for it smile and have a good time. It’s all about the details. Trying to get every little detail right, and then constantly making them even better for customers. We’ve tried to use that example on anything else that we’ve done since. Fisk: And what’s your greatest disappointment? Branson: I’ve had such good fortune in my life that I try not to dwell on the things that have gone wrong. Having said that, I felt passionately that the lottery [the UK’s national lottery, where he lost out to Camelot, who split its profits between shareholders and good causes] should be run in a different way – it’s a monopoly, a license to print money, and you can’t lose money running it. For that reason I don’t think a private company should be allowed to run it, and instead I wanted to run it in a way where all profits go to good causes. So it’s a pity that didn’t happen Some things just don’t work out, but I don’t dwell on them. We probably lost the most money on Virgin Cola, although it’s still number one in Bangladesh. Fisk: So what is Virgin-ness? Branson: Every company is different. But people in every business are proud of what they’ve created. It’s always a lot of fun. And as a switch board operator you should be appreciated as much as a director. Oh, and there should be lots of parties too. Up until a few years ago I used to invite every employee and their family to my country home. Last time 70,000 people turned up with their partners and kids, pitched their tents in the garden, listened to the live bands, and we had a fantastic time. Fisk: What are the limits to stretching your brand? Branson: When we went from records to airlines I remember Lord King [the CEO of British Airways at the time] caustically and amusingly said that I was too old to rock n roll, too young to fly and will fail within a year. Of course we didn’t and he soon retired. Unlike most brands, where Nike is about shoes, or Coke is about drinks, Virgin is more of a way of life brand. That’s because of how I am. I like giving new things ago. I likeseeing things from a customer point of view. Fisk: How do retain the “challenger” mindset? Branson: It’s all about creating small units. Although we are in lots of sectors, we’re not dominant in any. In mobile phones, we set up lots of companies, always smaller than Vodafone. Likewise in airlines, we’ve set up lots of small airlines, never the biggest in their local markets. We’re still the David rather than Goliath, although I’m sure some of our people would like to be Goliaths. Fisk: Which is your favourite Virgin business? Branson: I would have said some years ago that Virgin Atlantic was my favourite. It was a bit like having a child that was being bullied at school by the bigger airlines. However it’s now a beautiful 21 year old and can look after itself, so I enjoy looking after some of the smaller ventures. ? Fisk: What’s your dream for Virgin? Branson: There are still many areas around the world that I’d still like to challenge. The social issues are a fantastic motivator for people who work for Virgin, and I suspect they’re much prouder working for us because of them, even if they are not directly related to their business or making money. Space travel is absolutely, unbelievably exciting. For a British company to be preparing to be the first to take fare-paying customers into space is phenomenal. We registered the name Virgin Galactic in 1991 and then spent a decade looking for potential engineers to build a reusable spaceship. We explored mad, zany ideas, and then found Burt Rutan who’s the absolute genius in this area. He’d come up with the idea of turning the spaceship into a massive shuttle cock, to slow the vehicle on its dangerous re-entry phase. We got involved in SpaceShipOne, and will soon be launching the second generation of spacecraft. The whole project is almost carbon neutral. Each space flight will generate fewer emissions than a flight to New York, whereas NASA use the power of New York City to spend up the Space Shuttle. I can’t believe it, and I’m incredibly excited that in a couple of years from now, I will be taking my parents and children on our first flight into space. Fisk: You have 450 companies, how do you manage them? Branson: It’s important to think about what business really is. People think it’s about balance sheets, profit and loss. But really it’s about creating things -having a vision, creating something extremely special, then getting all the little details right – something that you can be really proud of, and others can be too. The actual business and its financial aspects are something to mop up at the end. If you’ve created something really special then people will come to it, pay for it, and that gives you the money to pay salaries, and invest in creating an even better business. If you just call in the accountants, you’ll get one company who predict you’ll make lots of money, and another who say its a ghastly idea. Basically they have no idea. Business cases for new ventures are really not worth the paper they’re written on. It’s up to you and your team to create something really special, that people will really want. Don’t let the accounts in until afterwards. Fisk: How much power or influence do you have? Branson: I was brought up by my parents, lavished with love, always looking for the best in what we did. They were eager to praise us, and were rarely critical. That’s even more important as a business leader. It’s about looking for the good things, people don’t need to be told when they’ve slipped up, they already know it. The moment you have more than one company, you need to learn the art of delegation. When I set up a new business, I spend a couple of months immersing myself in that business, so that I can make a contribution and have useful discussions with the new leaders. But then it’s about leaving them to it, and helping if and when they need it. Fisk: What’s most difficult to manage – rock stars, airlines and trains? Branson: Managing rock stars was a lot of fun, but hard work managing them and their drugs which tended to go along with them. Fisk: How do you motivate people? Branson: There’s no point being in business unless you want to make a real difference. So if the people you work for feel passionate about what they do, then that’s half the battle. But we also believe that a company should use some of its profits to make a wider difference in the world. If you can get all those things right, it creates a great place to work. Fisk: Is it harder to be passionate in a big business? Branson: Back in the days of Virgin records, there were 20 of us in a run-down mews house in Notting Hill Gate. When we got to 100 people I called in the deputy managing director, the deputy marketing and sales directors, and so, and told them they were now going to be the bosses of their own company. We split the company in two. And then as they grew, we did it again and again. We eventually had 10 different record companies all working independently and even competing against each other for the best artists and for sales. With 450 companies in the Virgin group, we’ve tried to keep that philosophy going. Each of our businesses has to stand on its own feet. The people who run those companies have incentives based on their own business results. Over time Virgin has created around 200 millionaires. If they make mistakes, then it doesn’t have too much impact. Fisk: What do you look for in a new business idea? Branson: First I want to be excited by the idea. I want it to hit me between the eyes, to know that there is a crying out need for it, that it wasn’t been done by others, and that we could do it better. Perhaps the Virgin brand could bring something to it, and we could have a lot of fun. Fisk: How do compare risk and rewards of new ventures? Branson: Personally I look at things more in terms of what we should be doing -if there is a need for something to be done because it really matters to people or the world, then ultimately you will find a way to finance it. Do things for the right reasons. If you start a record company, sign the bands you really like -do things you’re passionate about first ¬and then you’ll be more committed to making it work. Fisk: How do you manage for a downturn? Branson: If you’re a company in a position to carry on expanding, then you should continue, because otherwise a downturn becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy. If you can afford it there are opportunities t be had at such times. Whilst many of the US carriers are crumbling, we’ve just set up Virgin America which is thriving, and customers are flocking to it. For a smaller company, cash is king, so you need to be careful in a downturn. Fisk: You must be in demand, how do you allocate your time? Branson: I spend around 70% of my time on social issues and 30% on the businesses. I really want to make the most of my position to make a difference to the broader world. Of the time focused on business, then 25% is on new projects, 25% is on helping to build the brand around the world, taking the business forward into places like India and China, 25% is firefighting when things go wrong, and 25% is being brought in to promote things or swing a deal. From the early days I’ve worked from home, from my houseboat at first, in my hammock or a comfy chair. Now I tend to work more from my Caribbean home. I can get up early, go for a swim, have some breakfast by the shore, and by 8 am I’m ready to dictate some emails. Fisk: What’s your secret, what are you really good at? Branson: I love people. I love listening to people, being with people, and achieving things with people. Fisk: If I you had been born 40 years later, how would your life be different? Branson: I would hopefully have learnt how to use the Internet. Most of the 80 and 90s generated many great ideas, mainly from young people who just loved what they were doing. My good friends Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the guys from Google, say that people trying to get into their kind of business in their late twenties are too old. But it’s still about having a passion, a great idea, wanting to create things. Fisk: What are you doing about climate change? Branson: 4 years ago, Al Gore came to visit my home just before An Inconvenient Truth came out. He wanted my help in getting business people to sit up and care, and to do more about it. A few months later whilst sitting in the bath, I realised that we run one of the dirtiest industries in the world, and so thought lets switch the profits from these businesses into tackling those environmental issues. I talked it through with people like James Lovelock, Stephen Hawking and others and became convinced that we had a catastrophe in the making unless we did something about it now. We brought a team of scientist together to start studying green energy. We explored crop-based ethanol fuels but quickly recognised that wasn’t the best way because it eats into the food supply, so switched to other methods such as enzymes and algae as potential fuel sources. We still believe that sugar-based fuels have potential – there are tons of sugar in the world that isn’t good for you. Solar and wind power are also important, and we’re exploring more efficient ways to harness this energy. We experimented by flying a 747 at 35,000 feet on coconut oil, and now need to find a way of manufacturing sufficient amounts in a carbon neutral way. Fisk: Who are The Elders and what do they do? Branson: Prior to the Iraq war we were trying to stop Britain and America for invading the country, and instead finding a better way of resolving the situation. I asked Nelson Mandela to go and see [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein, maybe finding a way in which he could leave Iraq for a quiet life in Libya. Mandela agreed to go, if Kofi Annan went too. Unfortunately on the day we planned to go the bombing started. Peter Gabriel, one of our rock stars, had a similar idea, so we asked Mandela if he would lead a team of 12 “elders” from around the world, people who had great wisdom and integrity, and could make a difference to global issues. He chose a team that largely represented the diverse world, people like Archbishop Tutu and President Carter, and they now go round the world trying to resolve issues that are causing tension, conflict and disaster. They work tirelessly, behind the scenes, trying to find solutions to conflicts in places like Darfur, Burma, and Zimbabwe. We have also set up a global environmental war room, to challenge carbon, and enemy that threatens the world in a bigger way than the first and second world wars combined. There are lots of ideas, but no co-ordinated effort. The war room gives space to these ideas, to bring the best minds together, and experiment on more significant potential solutions. Fisk: If you can have one wish what would it be? Branson: I think it would be to get rid of all conflict in the world. With conflict you can’t have education and health, and the whole of society breaks down. Some countries are perhaps a bit too quick to send in their armies, which leads to more problems than existed before. Fisk: Who do you admire most? Branson: Of the other brands in the world that I really respect, then Apple would be number one. Steve Jobs was thrown out of Apple, and then they began to realise what a terrible mistake they’d made. He is very different from me, very hands on in everyaspect of the business, overseeing every ad campaign around the world, and zealously protecting the Apple brand. I have enormous respect for him. My heroes, however, are outside the business world. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Nelson Mandela ever since he came out of prison, and we’ve worked together on many projects. He and Archbishop Desmond Tutu would be my heroes. Fisk: What’s the best decision you ever made? Branson: Walking into the Manor recording studio kitchen one day and seeing this beautiful women and that was thirty two years ago. Fisk: How do you keep in touch with the real world? Branson: I’m lucky that I love people. I enjoy listening to people and learning from them. I believe that a good leader learns more by listening than by talking. Because of the many social initiatives, I’m much more tuned into what’s going on than ever before – I’m interested in what’s happening in China, Darfur, Sudan, and Zimbabwe at the moment. I’m also always listening to customers. On a Virgin Atlantic plane I take time to go back and talk to passengers, listening often for little things, perhaps a certain drink is not available, or the cabin crew’s shoes are a bit tight. I have a note book with me, and scribbling little notes. Fisk: Are you a technology guy? Branson: I can read my emails. But I struggle beyond that, and have a great team of assistants to help me. I have actually started doing a computer course, although the biggest thing I’ve learnt so far is how to delete things. I once spent a 12 hour flight doing mails for the whole flight, and switched off the laptop to find that I’d lost everything, so I’ve never trusted things ever since. I do have a mobile phone, well I have lots of them because I own a mobile phone company. But I can never find it, so I’m always boring other people’s phones [at this point, his travel organiser calls him. He fumbles around to find the phone, and then introduces her to 3000 people]. 10 years ago I was at Bill Gates’ house, with around 30 other business leaders, people like Phil Knight of Nike and Steve Jobs from Apple. Midway through the evening Bill asked if anyone in the room did not use the internet. I started to raise my hand, but my wife quickly pushed it back down. Later Bill asked each of us to talk for 10 minutes about how technology had changed our lives. He’s a great believer in constantly testing himself and others, so he handed out pieces of paper so that we could mark each other with scores out of ten. I was terrified, and spent more time trying to bribe Jobs and the others to give me a 10 if I gave them the same, rather than thinking of something profound to say. Fisk: How do you spend your personal time? Branson: I love spending time with people. I have friends that go back years and we are very lucky that we have our island to go there with families and pull up the drawbridge. I love keeping fit, and think that’s very important -at the moment I’m swimming two hours every day, one hour in the morning, and one in the evening. I love parties, and going to the V Festival and other music festivals around the world. I don’t go shopping. I don’t buy my own clothes. I have a wonderful lady who sorts out my food and clothes, and takes the weight off my shoulders. Perhaps you can tell I don’t actually pay that much attention to what I wear. A pair of jeans and shirt is good enough for me” Fisk: Who would be your ultimate dinner date? Branson: Well, let’s think. Natalie Imbruglia, definitely ... and maybe Kate Moss ... and my wife too. Fisk: What keeps you going? Branson: I was never interested in the money aspects of business. I was always interested in learning. I never went to university, so see life as one long learning process. I love creating things, challenging myself and others around me. And I don’t want to waste this fantastic position I find myself in. I think I can continue to achieve things. And when you think about the alternative, of sitting on a beach all day, probably drinking too much, then I would get boring quite quickly. Life’s too precious to waste. The audience had been enthralled and entertained, and now stood and cheered. He really did light up the room. We walked off stage. He was buzzing. “Great gig” he said, “some unusual questions too”. We hugged once more, he signed some of his own books this time, and he was off to catch his flight to Kenya. Screw it and do it This is a normal guy, slightly shy and incredibly laid back, somebody who really is no different from you and me. He wants to have fun, he wants to succeed, he has a hunger to learn and do better. This is a guy who really can make his dreams come true. He also recognises that he’s not perfect, that there are many things he can’t do as well as others, and openly admits his fears and frustrations. What is remarkable is that he has done more than most of us could even dream of, overcoming many obstacles in the most spectacular ways. At a time in life, when most of us would be thinking of taking it easy, he still wants to achieve more, and to change the world. Virgin, and its 450 companies, loves to be the “customer champion”, always looking for ways to challenge the establishment, market conventions and structures that they feel are not in the interest of customers, and to find a better way to do business, and do good. The values of Virgin are not just good words, but form the enduring principles for doing business. They are simple and fundamental. As Branson said “I always try to simplify things so that I understand them myself. When we first went into financial services, a guy came and talked to me about “bid offer spread”. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I’m sure neither do most other people”. Virgin builds each of its business, and delivers its services based on these 5 core values: fun, value for money, quality, innovation, competitive challenge and brilliant customer service. The ways of delivering these values range from the airline’s Limo Bikes to get you to the airport faster, to its “BA don't give a shiatsu“ ads poking fun at rival British Airways. To conclude, and demonstrate the Branson streak of fun and mischief that runs through every part of the business, here are some of Virgin’s more off-beat, quirky but still inspirational moments: An ear for talent. In 2003, an unknown singer-songwriter approached the store manager at Virgin Megastores, Milton Keynes to ask him if we'd stock his new single, which he'd written and recorded himself. The manager liked what he heard and agreed to stock the single -that went on to make it into the Top 40! Bathtime fun. The worst thing about business travel can be being away from home. We hit on the idea of putting a rubber duck in the bathrooms of Virgin-owned hotels, as a small gesture to help a harried businessman feel more at home. Who wouldn't love a rubber ducky? Another cool idea. What's better than watching a really great movie? Watching a really great movie with an ice cream! That's what we thought too, which is why Virgin Atlantic dishes out choc-ices to passengers while they're watching movies onboard. Press play. So you've heard the single on the radio and are thinking of buying the album. But what if you hate all the other tracks? Virgin Megastores wondered the same thing, so they were the first major music retailers to put Listening Posts in their stores. In a nutshell. Richard says that the best way to test if your product is clear enough is the 'pub sentence rule': if you're waiting at the bar to be served and a punter asks, "What's the point of Virgin X?" he should be able to answer in a brief sentence. Simple! Miracle fish. A little boy called Eli was travelling with Virgin Atlantic from Johannesburg to London. Just before take-off excitedly told the crew "Look, I've got my goldfish in this jar, he's never flown before!" They had to then break the news to Eli that actually fish aren't allowed to fly! He was devastated. However on arrival, Richard sent him a letter and a new goldfish, whilst the original fish is now best friends with the Jo’burg airport staff. Sing song. Once at Virgin Money, one of our customers really didn't want to be put on hold, so a call centre operator personally sang "New York, New York" to them while they waited to find out some information. Mischief makers. Kids will be kids. And sitting still is a pretty big ask when you're full of beans and there are train carriages to run amok in. Wouldn't it be great if there was something fun for them to do, to keep them out of mischief? Cue the Virgin Trains kid's activity packs, chockfull of fun and games, putting smiles on the faces of kids and parents alike! Viscious and rotten. Virgin Records leapt in where others feared to tread when they signed the Sex Pistols in 1977, and controversy was never far away. On Silver Jubilee Day 1977, Johnny Rotten and the band spat out their venomous version of 'God Save the Queen' on a Thames cruiser opposite the House of Commons. Police boarded the boat and arrested the band's manager, Malcolm McLaren. That week, Virgin sold more copies of the now-banned Pistols single than the 'official' number one by Rod Stewart. Toilet paper. "If you're embarking around the world in a hot-air balloon, don't forget the toilet paper. Once, we had to wait for incoming faxes!" advises the intrepid leader. Things don’t always go as planned, and indeed Branson has had his ups and downs like everyone. One of those ballooning ventures almost ended in death, with his co-pilot bailing out and the balloon screaming towards a crash landing in the water. Branson had little idea what to do, let alone time to look for some fax paper. Thankfully he was saved by a change of wind direction, and lived to tell his tale. Branson is inspirational and exceptional. He provides a role model to every business person for daring to do the extraordinary. He never stops championing the cause of customers, and trying to make life better for them. And let’s hope he can work his magic in saving the world too. Just before that glimpse of death in his balloon back in 1997, he was sitting in Morocco waiting for the final launch sequence. In his autobiography “Losing My Virginity” he shares the letter which he wrote at that moment to his children, in case he didn’t return. “Dear Holly and Sam. Life can seem rather unreal at times. Alive and well and loving one day. No longer there the next. As you both know I always had an urge to live life to its full. That meant I was lucky enough to live the life of many people during my 46 years. I loved every minute of it and I especially loved every second of my time with both of you and Mum. I know that many people thought us foolish for embarking on this latest adventure. I was convinced they were wrong. I felt that everything we had learned from our Atlantic and Pacific adventures would mean that we'd have a safe flight. I thought that the risks were acceptable. Obviously I've been proved wrong. However, I regret nothing about my life except not being with Joan to finally help you grow up. By the ages of 12 and 15 your characters have already developed. We're both so proud of you. Joan and I couldn't have had two more delightful kids. You are both kind, considerate, full of life (even witty!). What more could we both want. Be strong. I know it won't be easy. But we've had a wonderful life together and you'll never forget all the good times we've had. Live life to its full yourselves. Enjoy every minute of it. Love and look after Mum as if she's both of us. I love you Dad” ©

Peter Fisk 2012 Peter Fisk interviewed Richard Branson over three hours in front of an audience of 2500 business leaders at Westminster Hall, London. Peter Fisk is a best-selling author and inspirational speaker, a strategic consultant to leading companies around the world and a business entrepreneur. Peter leads the GeniusWorks, a strategic innovation business based in London and Budapest, Istanbul and Dubai, that works with senior management to “see things differently” – to develop and implement more inspired strategies for brands, innovation and marketing. Gamechanger is a strategy accelerator for leadership teams, Innolab is a facilitated innovation process based on deep customer insights and creative thinking, and BrandVision is a platform to develop better brands and brand portfolios. His best-selling book Marketing Genius explores the left and right-brain approaches to competitive success, and has been translated into more than 35 languages. Customer Genius describes how to build a customer-centric business, Business Genius is about inspired leadership and strategy, Creative Genius is the innovation guide for border crossers and game-changers, whilst People Planet Profit explains how to grow, whilst doing good ethically, socially and for the environment. Peter grew up in the remote farming community of Northumberland, in the North East of England, and after exploring the world of nuclear physics, joined British Airways at a time when it was embarking upon becoming “the world’s favourite airline” with a cultural alignment around customers. He went on to work with many of the world’s leading companies, helping them to grow more profitably by becoming more customer-centric in their structure, operations and leadership. He also led the strategic marketing practice of PA Consulting Group, and was the CEO of the world’s largest marketing organisation, the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He works across sectors, encouraging business leaders to take a customer perspective, and learning from different types of experiences. His clients include American Express and Aeroflot, Coca Cola and Cemex, and Marks & Spencer, Microsoft and O2, Orange and Red Bull, Shell and Tata Steel, Teliasonera and Turkcell, Vitra and Virgin, Vodafone and Volkswagen. He was recently described by Business Strategy Review as “one of the best new business thinkers” and is in demand around the world as an expert advisor and energising speaker.

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