A 97% Discount on a Private Island – Richard Branson’s Art of Negotiation (And 7 Other Skills Business Leaders Need to Develop)
You don’t build a $4.1 billion empire without possessing a set of invaluable skills. Discover the business and leadership skills that Richard Branson considers the most important.
Over the course of his career, Richard Branson has overseen close to 500 companies and counting. More than 200 of them are directly under Virgin, Branson’s legendary brand and biggest achievement. It’d be fair to say that the business world wouldn’t be the same without him.
When Branson talks, you’ll probably want to pay attention. There are very few people in the world who can match his level of experience and success. Branson’s numerous ventures allowed him to develop a skill set for turning many things that he touched into gold.
Before we get into the skills, let’s take a look at a story that perfectly illustrates Branson’s entrepreneurial prowess.
Investment of a Lifetime
In the 70s, Branson found out about the Virgin Islands for the first time. Naturally, the name alone was enough to intrigue him. It would be a perfect addition to his brand, which was still in its early days.
In one of his blog posts, Branson wrote:
‘I had no idea where they were located or that they were actually called the British Virgin Islands. But one Thursday in 1978, I was told that they existed and that I could potentially own one.’
He knew that he didn’t have nearly enough money to buy Necker Island. But this didn’t stop him. He got on the phone with the realtor, who didn’t know that Branson couldn’t afford the island.
The realtor invited him on a fully paid trip to see the island for himself. Wanting to impress a girl, Branson agreed under the condition of extending the invitation to include a companion.
The offer presented to Branson was way above his financial abilities at the time. The island was on the market for $6 million, but Branson could only offer $100,000. Needless to say, he went home empty-handed.
However, the island was still on the market the following year. That’s when the realtor became willing to sell it by any means necessary. You’d think that this desperation would drive him to lower the price by a couple of millions. He didn’t. After all, it’s still a 74-acre paradise island.
But by hook or by crook, Branson got him to agree to a price far below the island’s actual value at just $180,000. Considering that this is about a third the average cost of a home in Australia, he got in on quite a bargain.
Doing what he did best, Branson found a way to capitalise on the island. He invested in it and turned it into a resort. If you want to rent this place today, it will set you back a cool $77,500 per night. You don’t have to be a math wiz to recognise the massive ROI compared to the initial investment.
This is only one of many ventures that got Branson to where he is today. And it’s his mindset that created his insane wealth. If you want to build a similar mindset, here’s some advice on developing the skills needed for it:
1. Be a Risk Taker
One of Branson’s favourite sayings goes, ‘The brave may not live forever—but the cautious do not live at all.’ There’s no doubt that Branson made all the key business decisions with this at the back of his mind. This is not to say that he got it right all the time. But you can assume that it has paid off overall.
Branson explains that you need to be comfortable with failure. The world’s most powerful people understand the value of the lessons learned in things gone wrong. Learn the lesson and never repeat your mistakes, and you’ll be one step closer to success.
It’s not uncommon for a business idea to fail. But this is totally acceptable. Only a few of your big ideas have to pan out for you to strike it big time. Never get discouraged if your risks didn’t work out. See what went wrong, pick yourself up, and start over.
2. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
There’s no such thing as perfect when it comes to business. Chasing perfection can only lead to anxiety. On the other hand, believing that you’re perfect can make you complacent. As Branson explains:
‘There’s an inherent danger in letting people think that they have perfected something. When they believe they’ve ‘nailed it’, most people tend to sit back and rest on their laurels while countless others will be labouring furiously to better their work!’
So, what should you go after if not perfection?
The answer is simple – improvement. The beauty of a presumed unattainability of perfection is that there’s always something for you to get better at. Whether it’s your business or personal life, strive for continuous improvement even if you think you’ve made it.
3. Develop Open-Mindedness
When it comes to exploring new business ideas, Branson compares it to exploring new lands or territories. In his words:
‘We will find new species and better understand the make-up of the deep-level waters.’
While you might think that everything’s already invented, there’s endless potential to explore. New markets emerge all the time, so you never know if your idea might be the next big thing.
To do this, you need to be open to fresh ideas. Innovation is the heart and soul of business growth, so you need to keep coming up with new ways to stay relevant. This has a lot to do with your risk appetite, as not everyone is willing to take the road less travelled. But when push comes to shove, your best bet is to not play it safe and to create new chances for your business.
4. Be a True Leader
Many business owners misunderstand what it takes to develop leadership skills. They may think that it’s about telling people what to do and when to do it. But they wouldn’t be leaders in this fashion; they’d be mere bosses.
As the name suggests, a leader needs to move his people in the direction of his vision. He needs to develop an atmosphere of trust and respect that moves his people because they want to, and not because they have to.
Branson believes that management is about bringing out the best in people. In fact, he gets offended when people refer to him as the boss.
‘Perhaps, therefore, it is odd that if there is any one phrase that is guaranteed to set me off it’s when someone says to me, ‘Okay, fine. You’re the boss!’, says Branson.
Like many successful leaders, he goes above and beyond to learn about those he works with and how he can make them happy. If you’re not doing this, now is the perfect time to start.
5. Know How to Have Fun
While it’s important for everyone to take their job seriously, you shouldn’t go overboard with seriousness. This is especially true if your line of work is high pressure by default. This can create a monotonous climate that people don’t want to be a part of.
Branson understands this, which is why he strives for a good balance between hard work and fun. He does things that many business owners would never think of doing.
For example, just look back to the time when he found an employee dozing off at his Sydney offices. Instead of lashing out, he took a hilarious photo and shared it with everyone.
Of course, sleeping on the job isn’t something that you should ever encourage. But like Branson, you might find that a healthy dose of fun and flexibility works better than chastisement.
6. Work on Your Social Skills
Branson believes that there are very few things as important as surrounding yourself with the right people.
‘As a teenager, I thought that with the right bunch of people anything was possible. I learned that if I flanked myself with people that complemented my weaknesses and shared my passions, I could work with them towards greater achievements,’ Branson says.
Those whom you spend the most time with have a much bigger influence on your life than you might realise. Both positive and negative energy can be contagious. You need to find people who will inspire you to push through hardship instead of obsessing over it.
The issue is that many people believe this to be quite hard. There’s this ‘lone wolf’ mindset that business owners believe they need to adopt. When in fact doing everything on your own can do more harm than good.
Unless you’re social by nature, you’ll want to work on your social skills and get out there and practise. Shake some hands, build new relationships, and keep finding people who can help you achieve your goals.
7. Be Persistent
As mentioned, Branson has dabbled in all kinds of projects during his career. He doesn’t hesitate to get out of his comfort zone and into uncharted waters. But the one thing that all his actions have in common is that he sees them through to the very finish. However hard it may be, he never waves the white flag and gives up halfway.
In one of his blog posts, Branson wrote:
‘On every adventure I have been on — whether setting up a business, flying around the world in a balloon or racing across the ocean in a boat — there have been moments when the easy thing to do would be to give up.’
It’s how you push through the worst periods in your career that defines you as a leader. If you don’t put in enough effort, all your talent will go to waste. To see your full potential, you need to be ready to give it your all.
Not many people can claim to have a life experience as rich as Branson’s. Through many ups and downs, this experience has brought outstanding overall success. Luckily, Branson doesn’t shy away from sharing his ways with other people, so there’s a lot that business leaders can learn from him.
So, do you have what it takes to chase after a level of success like in Branson’s scope? If not, don’t worry about it. You have time to work on it. Start with the tips above and continue to better yourself. Soon enough, your goals won’t be as unattainable as they might appear right now.
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