Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 30th 2014 Contents The great South African golfer
Gary Player once mused,
"The harder I practice, the
luckier I get." While no
amount of practice seems
to improve my golf game
much, I ve found that his observation also
applies to business and entrepreneurship.
In descriptions of startups that have sur-
vived and thrived, luck is one of the most
misunderstood factors. Many people seem
to think that whether or not a startup suc-
ceeds is something over which an entre-
preneur has little control; like being struck
by lightning. But anyone who wants to make
the effort can and will improve their luck.
This may sound impossible, but it is about
the same principle as improving the odds
of lightning striking. During a thunderstorm,
you can stand in a field holding a metal rod
in the air, a golf club would work well. If
someone tells you that he was lucky because
he was in the right place at the right time,
it s likely that he decided where the right
place was and made sure to be there.
Those businesses that are generally con-
sidered luckier than others are usually led
by teams that are willing to take the greatest
JANUARY 2014 • WEEK FIVE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
risks: They accept the consequences of failure, and
carry on with their plans anyway. In contrast, entre-
preneurs and business leaders who play it safe rarely
seem to bring a new product to market at the exact
moment that customers want it, nor do they ever
seem to make that lucky connection with the right
To an outsider, it may appear that Virgin has had
more than its share of lucky breaks over the years,
but in every case, we worked hard and took risks to
make sure we were in the right spot when luck struck.
One of our first serendipitous moments involved
Mike Oldfield s album, Tubular Bells, which was
Virgin Records first release.
We took a huge risk by putting out an all-instru-
mental album, but much to everyone s surprise it
became a No 1 hit in Europe.
Despite the album s popularity, American companies
weren t interested in releasing the album. One person
I tried to persuade was Ahmet Ertegun, the head of
Atlantic Records, but despite my phone calls and let-
ters, he just didn t get it.
Then one day, Ertegun was playing the album in
his office (he must have been trying to figure out
what all the fuss was about), when in walked the
director William Friedkin, who was putting together
the soundtrack for a movie he was working on. Fried-
kin loved what he heard, and that was that; he had
his track and we had our deal. The movie was, The
Exorcist, which became one of the greatest box office
hits of its day, bringing Tubular Bells to a global audi-
Some people would just call it luck, but I had spent
a lot of time thinking up ways to bring the album
to Ertegun s attention, hoping that he would change
his mind. If he hadn t been intrigued enough to listen
to it just one more time, it would never have been
playing at that critical moment. Tubular Bells went
on to sell 20 million albums.
In the 90s, when we started up Virgin Atlantic,
our airline was much smaller than British Airways
and British Caledonian, and in 2000, when we
launched Virgin Blue, the Australian marketplace was
dominated by Qantas and Ansett. In both instances,
conventional wisdom dictated that we d be hard-
pressed to survive.
However, within a few years of our arrival on the
scene, the competitive landscape changed dramatically:
British Airways acquired British Caledonian and, after
a last-ditch attempt to buy us, Ansett went bust.
Were we just lucky to be in those markets at the
right moments, or did our market presence push two
big airlines over the edge? I genuinely believe that
we manufactured our own luck.
This is why successful entrepreneurs are often
noted for their perseverance in pursuing their vision:
If we had been the ones to fail, no one would have
said that we were unlucky. Instead, we have been
accused of showing bad judgment for entering those
markets in the first place.
Luck, coincidence, serendipity---call it what you
like, it involves a lot of hard work, careful thought
and raw courage. The Roman philosopher Seneca
said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets
opportunity." That s it exactly! If you re an entre-
preneur, what have you done to make your own luck?
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He has recently published two books: Screw Busi-
ness as Usual and Like a Virgin. 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:
@2014 Richard Branson. Distributed by the New
York Times Syndicate
How to make your own luck
Links Archive January 29th 2014 January 31st 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page