You will be disappointed if you pick up Sir Richard Branson's "Commercial Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur" hoping to read the inner story of his huge business empire, which spans countries, industries, and, if he had his way, planets. That isn't the "bare" Branson is referring to. Instead, Branson is discussing his business idea and how it might be applied to yours. The notion that even if you're running a company as enormous as Branson's (or was; he's no longer running anything save his private philanthropic organizations), it doesn't have to be convoluted, complicated, or alienating. It may – and should – be extremely straightforward. To be clear, Branson recognizes that "simple" and "easy" are not synonymous. However, he believes that a firm run on a few fundamental principles will be more successful, efficient, and effective in the long term.
Branson makes his point by addressing all of the major issues that an entrepreneur will face, including people, brand, innovation, leadership, and his personal favorite, social responsibility. His direction is often as forthright and unconventional as one could anticipate. “Find decent people and set them free,” Branson advises on people. Alternatively, study what you know and what you don't know, grasp what you can and can't do, and then recruit individuals to fill in the gaps. Then hand it on to them. Don't try to accomplish things you don't know how to do, and don't expect others who can do things you can't to be clones of yourself. Branson has a long history of hiring people who he readily admits are specialists in areas of his enterprise where he is not. This is a positive development. It's something to aspire to.
Also, don't be afraid to make errors. Sure, Mr. – or rather SIR – Richard Branson can say whatever he wants, right? And, yeah, the major blunders are, one would suppose, well behind him. However, there is a prevalent mentality that it is preferable to attempt and fail than not to try at all. It's a mindset, an approach, from being caught red-handed in 1969 illegally smuggling recordings into England (which cost him £60,000 and took three years to pay off) to some of the bizarre and arbitrary phone calls and judgments he's made that he and his team are still puzzled by. It's why there's an entire chapter devoted to it.
Or his opinions on invention, which take up an entire chapter and are essentially "Always keep your ears and eyes open," yet defy the stench of the obvious with examples from Branson's own businesses. When he first started designing Virgin Atlantic, he challenged his team to create a travel experience unlike anything else that U.S. visitors had ever experienced. Something that would "knock their socks off," as Branson puts it. “What if we got rid of check-in lines?” was one of the concerns that arose as a result of this. How can we return control to the passengers?” and such concerns arose not from Branson himself, but from the individuals he employed who were just as committed to innovation as he is.
One of the book's challenges is exemplified by this. Despite all of the theoretical and abstract business ideas, one finds oneself skimming over them in order to focus on Mr. Branson's more engaging and vivid real-life Virgin story sprinkled throughout the text. Partnering with Google to build a community on Mars in the next 15 years, hanging out on his own private island in the Caribbean, and attempting to buy England's major banks to save the British economy can't help but overshadow sound business advice, no matter how successful it has proven to be