Richard Branson: Companies Should Put Employees First

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The Virgin founder shares how making employees the top priority can bring benefits for both customers and investors.
By Oscar Raymundo

IMAGE: Getty Images

Richard Branson was able to build Virgin into a global powerhouse by focusing on two key words: customer service.

From Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Mobile, Branson says, each new Virgin venture has shared the brand’s unrivaled commitment to customers. In fact, the famed entrepreneur refused to place the Virgin name on a company he acquired until it had been brought up to the proper caliber of customer service.

Surprisingly, Branson recently revealed that Virgin does not put the customer first. In fact, Virgin employees are the company’s top priority. That may sound counter to decades-old business wisdom, but it has worked so well for Virgin that Branson says he’s surprised more companies haven’t adopted an employee-centric management strategy.

“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy,” Branson tells Inc. president and editor-in-chief Eric Schurenberg in an interview.

To make sure his employees are well taken care of, the founder even goes so far as to collect feedback by walking around the cabin and talking directly to the staff during his Virgin flights. As Branson sees it, the formula is very simple: Happy employees equal happy customers. Similarly, an unhappy employee can ruin the brand experience for not just one, but numerous customers.

“If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile,” Branson says. By not treating employees well, companies risk losing customers over bad service. To this end, Branson says he has made sure that Virgin prioritizes employees first, customers second, and shareholders third.

“Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy,” he says.

“Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third”

In an exclusive Inc. interview, Sir Richard explains who rates highest at Virgin. And it’s not investors, either.

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