We need more leaders to match Branson’s passion

by | Aug 18, 2012 | News

Simon Hayward from Cirrus writes for People Management

Sir Richard Branson has spoken from the heart in his response to losing the West Coast main line franchise to FirstGroup. In a passionate statement, the Virgin chairman describes the current tender system as “flawed” and questions whether FirstGroup will be able to deliver against their promised goals, claiming that, “On the past three occasions, the winning operator has come nowhere close to delivering their promised plans and revenue, and has let the public and country down dramatically.” Further criticism was fired at the Department for Transport: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When will the Department for Transport learn?”

Branson claims that Virgin Trains had “submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving the customers’ experience through increased investment and innovation.” He said the company had been careful to submit a bid that would not have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality, and was not prepared to introduce significant fare rises.

Even for Branson, who has carved out a reputation as an outspoken people’s champion, these are bold words. They are also words which will be well received by many who are increasingly mistrustful of big business. The British public has made it clear in recent times that they want to see more values-led leadership, and appreciate leaders who can speak from the heart. Following the series of high-profile corporate scandals we have witnessed in recent times, there is an increasing interest in businesses who can combine commercial success with authentic, clear values – particularly if those values are customer-focused.

Branson and Virgin enjoy a high degree of trust. This trust has helped Virgin Trains to overcome some of the problems it has encountered during its time running the West Coast main line. Customers make a strong emotional connection with the Virgin brand. Branson himself embodies many of the attributes people associate with Virgin, such as innovation, openness, informality and egalitarianism. Virgin enjoys a good reputation for customer service across the group and aims to combine high quality, value for money, challenge and fun across all its companies. When Virgin Trains have not always succeeded to deliver against these goals, customers have been more likely to forgive, partly because of Branson’s standing as a people’s champion.

Whether or not FirstGroup succeeds in running the West Coast main line franchise remains to be seen. If Branson secures the judicial review he is expected to push for, there’s still a chance they may not win it. Perhaps FirstGroup could do more to emphasise their commitment to customer service alongside their promises to introduce more frequent and faster trains and deliver solid returns for shareholders. If their leaders can communicate openly and authentically, the public is more likely to listen.

Please click here to read Simon’s article on the People Management website.

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