‘It’s quite sim­ple – if you have fun and do good things, the money will fol­low’

Thomas, for­mer group chief ex­ec­u­tive of M&C Saatchi, joined Vir­gin En­ter­prises as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and global head of brand in Fe­bru­ary 2016.


Make quick de­ci­sions. I’m a firm be­liever in mak­ing quick de­ci­sions. I’m re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing the Vir­gin brand for more than 60 busi­nesses in 35 coun­tries – there isn’t al­ways the lux­ury of a lot of time to make a de­ci­sion. I also be­lieve time in the work­place is wasted by try­ing to make de­ci­sions by com­mit­tee. It goes with­out say­ing that you need to know your brand in­side out, un­der­stand the risk, work to over­come the chal­lenges and ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions. How­ever, ul­ti­mately, you need to trust your in­stinct – then de­ci­sion-mak­ing be­comes a lot eas­ier. Take an ‘in­side out’ ap­proach and drop the jar­gon.

It’s well-known that you should al­ways put the cus­tomer first and, of course, that’s true. How­ever, it’s also essential to build your brand from in­side out. This means putting em­ploy­ees first – your peo­ple are your most im­por­tant as­set. Em­ploy­ees are the face of your brand and on the front line deal­ing with cus­tomers every day. If your em­ploy­ees feel em­pow­ered and sup­ported, this will have a huge im­pact on cus­tomers.

We of­fer a range of poli­cies, such as flex­i­ble work­ing, that give our em­ploy­ees com­plete con­trol over their work/life bal­ance. Pro­vid­ing the job is done, then they are free to work how and when they wish to. Clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion with your teams is essential too – I avoid jar­gon and try to be my­self as much as pos­si­ble. It’s im­por­tant for lead­ers to have a healthy dose of hu­mil­ity and let their real per­son­al­ity shine through in or­der to con­nect with the peo­ple they man­age. If you look af­ter your peo­ple, they will be­come your great­est am­bas­sadors and help grow your cus­tomer base. Pin­point your pur­pose. Pur­pose is at the core of what Vir­gin stands for. Pur­pose-driven com­pa­nies make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the lives of em­ploy­ees, their com­mu­ni­ties and the world. Vir­gin fo­cuses on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion, as well as many im­por­tant global en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial is­sues from cli­mate change to LGBT rights. We know that be­ing pur­pose-driven gives us a com­pet­i­tive edge, in­creases em­ployee con­fi­dence and cre­ates strong in­no­va­tion. Brands that pri­ori­tise pur­pose are three times more likely to re­tain their em­ploy­ees. It’s quite sim­ple – if you have fun and do good things, the money will fol­low. There are fan­tas­tic ex­am­ples from across Vir­gin where our com­pa­nies are pri­ori­tis­ing pur­pose. One ex­am­ple is Vir­gin Mo­bile United Arab Emi­rates’ mis­sion to en­sure it is “mak­ing mo­bile bet­ter” by of­fer­ing the first fully digi­tised mo­bile ser­vice in the UAE. It has thought through the role it can play in peo­ple’s lives. Erase the gen­der gap. I moved into the agency world when there were still echoes of the Mad Men era. Walk­ing into my first meet­ing and hav­ing some­one com­ment on the size of my breasts was a steep learn­ing curve for me. I don’t be­lieve we have pro­gressed as quickly as we should have done over the past 20 years. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced gen­der in­equal­ity first-hand and had to work hard to as­sert my role as a fe­male in the work­place.

I firmly be­lieve that the best work­places are those where dif­fer­ences are cel­e­brated and peo­ple can truly be them­selves. Lead­ers should play a key role in en­sur­ing this hap­pens. I find it un­ac­cept­able that many busi­ness lead­ers fun­da­men­tally don’t see the ben­e­fit of gen­der equal­ity. It’s time to see a change in at­ti­tude so that peo­ple truly be­lieve equal­ity is the right thing to do rather than sim­ply pay lip ser­vice to it.

Em­brace the an­gry con­sumer. The past year has been a time of seis­mic shift – there has been piv­otal change and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. There is a lack of trust in gov­ern­ments and peo­ple voted to dis­rupt the sta­tus quo. It’s clear that tra­di­tional meth­ods of un­der­stand­ing con­sumers have failed us. Peo­ple are an­gry, and an­gry peo­ple can be un­pre­dictable.

We need to adapt the way we work, un­der­stand the is­sues and learn the best ways to con­nect with our con­sumers to bring them closer to the brand. In­sight is crit­i­cal and it doesn’t have to be com­pli­cated. Talk to friends, fam­ily, cus­tomers, the per­son on the street – pretty much any­one who comes into con­tact with your com­pany. Un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence you make to peo­ple’s lives and how you can im­prove it.

Our founder, Sir Richard Bran­son, is a firm be­liever in vis­it­ing our com­pa­nies to ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the ser­vice our cus­tomers re­ceive. The brands that suc­ceed of­fer some­thing new, dis­rupt the mar­ket and work hard to bring con­sumers much closer to them.

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