Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2017 Contents APRIL 27 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
Never put profit before people
Why do I start busi-
The answer is the
same today as it was
when I launched my
first company five
decades ago: to make a positive difference in
people's lives. I believe that companies should
have a similar desire at their core, no matter
what industry they're in.
Our team at Virgin has always kept this in
mind whenever we've entered a new sector.
Take the airline industry. We built three belov-
ed airlines---Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia
and Virgin America---based on the belief that
passengers deserved better. We feel that when
people choose an airline, they deserve cour-
tesy and care. They also deserve respect and
an amazing experience. They certainly do not
deserve to be treated like numbers on a balance
sheet, or like cattle in a cabin.
Sadly, not every business shares this view-
point. (I'm sure you can think of one or two
you've recently read about without me having
to name them).
Companies like these tend to put profit be-
fore people and they will ultimately be found
out. Every company and business leader makes
mistakes. I've made more than my fair share,
and I know I'll make more. The good news is
that if you face them head on, move fast and
have a strong company culture in place, you
can recover from any setback.
Maintaining a strong company culture be-
gins with putting people first, and that requires
heartfelt service. Allowing your team the free-
dom to be themselves is key to achieving that.
When things go wrong, having too many pro-
cesses and procedures in place can hinder staff
when they need to make judgment calls based
on their own experience, their humanity and
the company culture.
On our team, we strive to give employees
enough latitude to make decisions that are
based on common sense, not outdated rule-
books. We believe in giving our staff the right
tools to do their job, then trusting them to do
the right thing.
Whether it's dealing with an overbooked
flight, a missed train or an issue with a phone
bill, empower your front-line team to deal in
the moment. Acting fast can cost you some
money, but a delay or a rigid response will
probably cost you a great deal more in lost
good will. And in this age of social media, a
customer issue can spread like wildfire across
the internet, and cause lasting damage.
Giving your team flexibility and responsibili-
ty is part of the solution, but it's also important
to ensure that workers feel like they're part of a
bigger mission than just making money: They
will treat customers better, and those custom-
ers will prove to be more loyal and come back
over and over again. In the end, this will reflect
positively on your profits, too.
I recently spent some time taking a whirl-
wind trip to visit Virgin businesses around the
world, which gave me plenty of time on planes
to reflect on these thoughts. It was particularly
poignant to close a globetrotting week in Seat-
tle, as that's the home of Boeing, the company
that gave me a break 33 years ago by renting a
second-hand 747 airliner to a young upstart
record producer so that we could launch Virgin
Most people wrote us off at the time and in-
sisted we had no chance of surviving. However,
building our airline around customer experi-
ences and having an empowered team meant
that we focused on the right things from the
It helped us create a service culture that
attracted loyal passengers and allowed us to
We brought in more comfortable seats,
stand-up bars, seat-back entertainment sys-
tems, but none of these features would have
had an impact if we had not given our staff the
freedom to be themselves.
More than 33 years later, Virgin Atlantic
still exudes the same confidence and sense
of fun that started it all. It's a testimony to
the leadership and company culture, which
was embedded from the start.
If your business is not built on people and
purpose, you will only ever be papering over
the cracks. But if your business believes in
supporting and growing your people, they will
thrive; and customers will come back over and
(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/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(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 website or publication where you read the
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