‘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.