Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 17th 2016 Contents MARCH 17 • 2016 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
Is it possible to have more
than one alpha leader within
a company? How about on a
--- Lim Ji Chen
When you think of the
world s greatest compa-
nies, you probably pic-
ture the charismatic indi-
viduals who lead them,
like Apple s Steve Jobs, or Facebook s Mark
Zuckerberg. Most people presume that if a
company is beating out the competition, it s
because of the leader at the helm. But I expect
that if you dig a bit deeper at any successful
company, you ll find a large group of leaders
working behind the scenes who deserve a great
deal of credit for the business achievements.
At Virgin, our companies are peppered with
alpha leaders. We ve learned that by encour-
aging employees to be leaders, we prompt
them to share more ideas, which makes our
businesses more successful.
In addition, it s essential that we employ a
diverse staff with a wide range of backgrounds
in order to ensure that the new ideas appeal
to the broadest range of people. This is one
of the reasons that leaders at our Virgin Man-
agement offices are offered "unconscious bias
training"---we encourage everyone to think
outside the box.
People tend to hire those who are most like
themselves, and we don t want to have a com-
pany in which everyone looks and thinks alike.
Essentially, the secret ingredient to the suc-
cess of our Virgin companies is our dedication
to working together so that the best ideas
shine through, no matter who comes up with
After all, a company is a kind of a family,
a group of people who laugh, grow, and achieve
great things together. A system like ours, then,
requires that each staff member must have
the freedom to act on her own ideas, so that
she can be a leader who inspires others. And
our system works well!
At Virgin Trains in the UK, for instance,
employees who interact with customers are
empowered to implement changes and see
In consequence, a member of the retail team
rearranged the way the Virgin ticket office
was laid out at the Manchester Piccadilly sta-
tion in order to make it more accessible, which
was a terrific improvement, and one of our
train managers reimagined our ticketing down-
load system, which increased our download
success rate to 90 per cent from 72 per cent.
You can t wait for the executive team to come
up with innovations like these.
This freedom to use their leadership skills
allows our employees to shape their careers
according to their abilities, not just their luck
at finding openings on the corporate ladder.
For example, Scott Hood, Virgin Active Aus-
tralia s managing director, took me on a tour
of our new club in Melbourne last year, and
it was great to hear how he and his team were
implementing the vision that he had dreamed
up for the company during his nearly two
decades with us.
Scott joined the UK s second Virgin Active
club in Leeds as a receptionist, took a job as
a personal trainer, then was promoted to oper-
ations manager. Next, he served in three general
manager positions before being appointed
regional manager of 12 health clubs in the UK.
In 2006, he was named national operations
After gaining some experience as head of
fitness, he decided that he wanted to see more
of the world, so he became project director
in South Africa, and then chief operating offi-
cer. Next, Scott moved Down Under to become
Australia s operations director.
How did he do it? An ascent like Scott s
would never have happened if he didn t work
with managers who were eager to hear fresh
perspectives like his. They encouraged open
discussion from everyone on the team, and
he had some terrific ideas to share.
Of course, it s important that the person
who had the original vision for the business
must have the final say when conflicts arise
(which can happen when everyone is a leader).
However, the founder s vision is best carried
out by a team of alpha leaders working together
on it on executing it.
Whenever I meet an employee who just
joined a Virgin company, I encourage that per-
son to start thinking about how he would do
things differently, and I urge his manager to
put those fresh ideas into practice. And as
that employee and his managers and the rest
of the team makes small improvements every
day, they gradually build a great business.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin
America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains
a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You
can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richard-
branson. To learn more about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from readers will be answered in future
columns. Please send them to
Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of the
Web site or publication where you read the column.)
At great companies,
everyone can be a leader
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