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Life Is Good

Richard Branson has a big ego, which can be off-putting. (My one contact with him was unpleasant; it gave new meaning to the word "condescending.")

But God bless him!

Branson has succeeded again and again, and is often on the side of the saints. For starters, his idea of fun is going head to head with someone who has him by 100,001 pounds. As the New Yorker explained in a wonderful profile ("Branson's Luck: The Business World's High Roller Is Betting Everything on Biofuels," by Michael Specter, May 14), "Branson likes to enter a market controlled by a giant ... British Airways, say, or Coke or Murdoch. Then he presents himself as hip alternative."

He gets pissed off at something stupid (pathetic airline customer "service") and on a dime starts an airline, or whatever. (NB: I happen to believe that all, as in ALL, successful innovation, product or process, is the product of pissed off people.) With a fortune measured in the billions, he commands a payroll of about 55,000 feisty folks in 200 very independent companies. (E.g., Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue of Australia, Virgin Limousines, Virgin Money, Virgin Active health clubs, Virgin Galactic space travel.)

Branson is his brand, but as told here he enjoys his nutty stunts, and engages in them even when out of camera range; going back to his hotel after a recent party that included the Google founders, half Branson's age, said car was full, so Sir Richard simply hopped in the trunk. The profile also calls him the "anti-Trump." Around the office, "Branson's nickname is Dr Yes, largely because he has never been able to bring himself to fire people, and often has trouble saying no to even the most ridiculous and unsolicited ideas."

As I read the Branson profile I not only let my mind wander to DaimlerChrysler (see immediately above), but also to Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder. I like Schultz and his company. But it seems to me that when one hears of its future, it's almost always in terms of Howard's goal of making it to 100,000 shops, or some such. Branson is surely happy when his businesses succeed and grow (though not awash in tears when one fails, as long as it was a good try), but his primary goal is the fun of doing something cool to twit a giant or, more recently, saving the world.

In short (and long), I wish there were many more like him.

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Tom & Bob Waterman coauthored In Search of Excellence in 1982; the book was named by NPR (in 1999) as one of the "Top Three Business Books of the Century," and ranked as the "greatest business book of all time" in a poll by Britain's Bloomsbury Publishing (2002). Tom followed Search with a string of international bestsellers: A Passion for Excellence (1985, with Nancy Austin), Thriving on Chaos (1987), Liberation Management (1992: acclaimed as the "Management Book of the Decade" for the '90s), The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations (1993), The Pursuit of WOW! (1994); The Circle of Innovation: You Can't Shrink Your Way to Greatness (1997); and in 1999 a series of books on Reinventing Work: The Brand You50, The Project50 and The Professional Service Firm50. In 2003 Tom and publisher Dorling Kindersley released Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age; the revolutionary book, an immediate No.1 international best seller, aims to do no less than reinvent the business book through vibrant, energetic presentation of critical ideas.
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