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Countless enterprises, one strong vision

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Q: There are so many businesses within the Virgin Group. Is there a single overall vision for the group, or does each business have a separate vision? I am interested in this question because I have a single business concept, but also different sub-businesses that work within its umbrella.


—Donald Lynn Coates, 
Baton Rouge, Lousianna.





When Virgin started expanding from the music business into other industries, the experts and our competitors advised us strongly against such moves, arguing that it was inevitable that we’d fail. Not only did we lack expertise, they pointed out, but this did not fit into Virgin’s overall mission. At last count, we have started up more than 400 companies since then, and as the success of our group has proved, your vision for your company should not be so restrictive that it limits your team’s imagination.


You do need to develop an overall vision for your company; one that is strongly supported by a more targeted strategy at each business that falls under your umbrella. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary: One should not override the other.


Starting up a business is always an adventure, and not everything comes together for every entrepreneur in the same way. As you face the challenges of keeping your business going, you may find that your vision for the company needs to be adjusted as you go.


I started my first business, Student magazine, to give young people in the 1960s a voice on the key issues of the day. The war in Vietnam was becoming a major problem and, at 16, I wanted to create a strong platform to campaign against the war. The magazine spawned a mail-order record business which, in turn, led to us create a chain of record stores, then a recording studio, then a record company; and with that, we launched the Virgin brand.


Looking back, our goals certainly changed and expanded over time, but there was a key element that was common to all of those enterprises: they were created to enhance people’s lives. Our strategy varied in most instances—by offering better prices, improved products, great service or by raising awareness of key issues—but ultimately our businesses were bound together by this common purpose. Like most entrepreneurs, I was learning to lead our group as it grew, and this foundation helped me to create an overall vision for our company.


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