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The Awesome Advice We Learned From Richard Branson’s Former Assistant

Penni Pike discusses the qualities that made the adventurous British entrepreneur a great leader (and that time she jumped out of a helicopter).

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Most people don’t go in for a routine day of work expecting to fly in a hot air balloon. But most people don’t work directly with Richard Branson.

For 31 years, Penni Pike, of Hampshire, England, worked as the personal assistant to the founder of the Virgin Group.

Pike got her start with the company as a backroom helper at the first Virgin Megastore, located on London’s Oxford Street, in the 1970s. She told Entrepreneur she quickly progressed to become the executive personal assistant to the golden-haired entrepreneur, a job she held for 31 years.

Pike hasn’t retired, however, even after suffering a “devastating stroke” in 2008. “I refused to sit back and accept it, and I was determined to carry on with my life and career,” Pike told Entrepreneur. She joined Time etc, a 9-year-old company that provides virtual assistants to professionals in the U.S. and U.K., after meeting its founder, Barnaby Lashbrooke. He reminded her “a lot of Richard when he was younger.”

Related: Richard Branson on What Makes a True Entrepreneur

Pike acts as special advisor at the company, helping to design and shape the service it provides, as well as advising its 600 VAs on how to look after clients.

So who better to provide insights into the adventurous British entrepreneur than the woman who was by his side for three decades? We couldn’t resist asking Pike questions about her memories of Branson and the lessons she learned from him. Here’s how she responded, edited for length and clarity.

What were your daily duties for Mr. Branson? How did you help him? What specific projects/duties were your main focus?

There is no easy answer here because every day was so different. You’d go in thinking you were going to do filing or something routine and end up flying in an air balloon! Days were long, often not ending until 2 a.m.

On most days I would get there early, perhaps 7 a.m., see Richard and immediately jump into organising whatever was on the list. I would coordinate everything – for example, if Richard was traveling I would take care of every part of organising the trip – and simply hand all the documents and his passport to Richard as he headed to the airport.

Oh, and I took the call that resulted in Virgin Atlantic starting!

Are there any funny anecdotes or stories you can share about your time working closely with Mr. Branson?

One of the most memorable tasks I was given was to leap out of a helicopter carrying Richard in order to read road signs for the pilot, who had forgotten his map.

What surprised you most about Mr. Branson?

Nothing! Because almost everything was a surprise, but I never let it phase me. When you were working for Richard you just did it!

What do you want people to know most about your time working with Mr. Branson?

richard-branson-virgin-atlantic

My time with Richard was absolutely wonderful from start to finish – and something that can never be replaced. It was the time of my life. The only reason we stopped working together is that he wanted to move to Necker and I didn’t want to work anywhere else. As a parting gift, Richard lent me his houseboat in London for seven years.

Related: Richard Branson on Embracing Failure

What did you like best about working with Mr. Branson as his assistant and why? What did you like least and why?

I loved the variety and adventure – literally no two days were the same. The only task I didn’t relish was coordinating the travel plans for the hundreds of friends and family that Richard would fly to his private island, Necker, every summer.

In those days people had to fly to New York, then down to Miami, then to an island, then take a private plane to another island and finally a boat to Necker. Organising that for 300 people was sometimes a nightmare!

What specifically did you do while working so closely with Mr. Branson that taught you how to be an effective virtual assistant? How did these things help you do what you do better?

Supporting one of the world’s most successful business owners for 31 years taught me exactly what successful people require in an executive assistant. There are many things, like learning to be always one step ahead, that you simply cannot learn any other way.

How did working closely with Mr. Branson help you develop the competitive, 10-stage selection process for Time etc virtual assistants?

Because I was lucky enough to work so closely with Richard for so many years, I know exactly what traits a good executive assistant has to have – and I’ve used that unique knowledge to help design the selection process at Time etc.

What we look for ranges from specific skills right down to softer personality traits like humbleness – a very important thing to have in this role!

What are the top specific lessons you learned about business and productivity directly from working with Mr. Branson?

I learned so much from Richard, but more than anything else:

I learned that if you look after your people, like Richard looked after me, they will happily work seven days a week and long hours without feeling like they want to stop.

He was incredible at keeping me interested and engaged, and I wouldn’t have wanted to work for anyone else.

I also learned about the value of hard work. Richard never stopped and was always on the go – always planning and starting new adventures almost constantly.

What are your top productivity tips for busy entrepreneurs struggling to “juggle it all”?

Firstly, invest the time in planning your week and your day – this is vital to making sure you get the most out of the precious time you have.

Secondly, learn to delegate – sooner or later you will have to get some help in order to grow. Delegation takes a huge amount of effort, patience and practice, but when you master it, it’s extremely powerful – just look at Richard Branson!

Finally, make sure you take the time to rest up – whether that’s once a week or a couple of times a year. Richard was always very good at making sure he took time away from the grind to spend with his family, and it’s when he had all his best ideas!

What’s the biggest productivity mistake people make and what should they do to fix it, specifically?

People often end up being busy on the wrong things – so they feel they’re being productive, but it isn’t getting their business or career anywhere.

Richard was a master at being productive only on the things that pushed Virgin forward.

Related: Richard Branson on Why Hiring Should Be Your No. 1 Job

What is the key to staying productive?

I believe in short cycles – doing lots of different tasks for an hour or two each helps me to stay productive. I’d really struggle if I tried to do the same thing all day every day!

What was it like to work with Mr. Branson? Are there general impressions or quirky things that stand out from working with him?

In two words: Simply incredible. One of the most amazing things in all those years [is that] Richard never lost his temper in front of me – not even once. Considering the pressure he was under – I think that’s remarkable!

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Stephen J. Bronner is news director of Entrepreneur.com. He was formerly contributors editor. Bronner occasionally writes about food and fitness.

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Leading

Coaching: The Best-Kept Secret To Growing As An Entrepreneur

A good coach can turn raw talent into refined expertise and refined talent into renowned success. But how do we bridge “the coaching gap”?

Zach Ferres

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Sometimes, a change at the top can be the difference between a perennial loser and a surprise contender. For proof, look no further than the Los Angeles Rams, a team which less than a year ago wrapped up a 4-12 season that included a midyear coaching transition.

New coach Sean McVay appears to have energised his players, helping the Rams capture momentum that was completely absent when the team lost seven consecutive games to close out the 2016 season.

Yes, the Rams play football, but there’s a lesson there for startup and small business owners. Because, like professional athletes, entrepreneurs perform better under the guidance of great coaches.

And the news there is good: Due to the competitive advantages entrepreneurs enjoy from expert coaching, the marketplace for coaches has started to swell. According to the 2016 Global Coaching study by the International Coach Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers, global coaching revenue was estimated to be about $2.4 billion in 2015, besting 2011’s figure by a substantial 19 percent.

Not to mention what’s happening with the bigger guys: Up to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies now work with executive coaches, according to consulting firm Hay Group.

Related: Paddy Upton: People Centred Coaching

Yet, while executive coaching has gained traction, many start-up founders lack access to high-quality coaches. The paradox? They can’t afford an experienced coach, but need one to be able to build their companies to the point of being able to do just that.

What separates a coach from a mentor

posted about this coaching paradox on LinkedIn a while back, and my post attracted a flood of comments. After reading them through, I realised that many people don’t understand the distinction between a mentor and a coach. While these positions might seem similar, there’s actually a world of difference between the two.

“Mentors,” for one thing, don’t usually follow a fixed schedule or require payment. They help with strategic issues, answering questions for founders without actively participating in company operations.

“Coaches,” on the other hand, are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They are typically paid, and operate on, a fixed schedule to help entrepreneurs make themselves better. Mentors offer great advice; coaches ask great questions.

Based on the comments my post attracted, founders of new start-ups are hungry for a coach. There’s a huge gap in the start-up community as it relates to coaching; everyone needs it, but relatively few people are willing to provide it for free. So, what to do?

How to bridge entrepreneurship’s coaching gap

bridge-gap-between-mentorship

The question is, how do we solve the paradox and match enterprising, young CEOs with talented coaches? The answer to this coaching quandary rests in the basic ecology of entrepreneurship. By studying the interactions between entrepreneurs and their physical environment, a cycle of mutually beneficial coaching exchanges begins to emerge.

Here are its three steps:

1. First-time founders: Barter for coaches

Young founders probably can’t afford to shell out more than $1 million a year for coaching sessions with Tony Robbins. Instead, they must find coaches willing to offer their services for a low cost. They also might be able to trade their own services for coaching.

My first coach, James, was also one of my clients when I was running my first company in Ohio. James was a sales coach who asked us to build his new website. When I initially met with him to discuss the project, I accidentally went to the wrong Starbucks. I arrived 15 minutes late for our meeting, which prompted his first lesson: “Be on time when you meet with people. You’re young, and you need to do the little things to ensure that others take you seriously and treat you as a professional.”

Many team members from BounceFire still remember “the call” James made to our office one day when things weren’t going well. We took our lumps, but we learned incredible lessons. He later admitted that he was deliberately hard on me because he wanted to see me succeed.

All first-time entrepreneurs should have someone like that to push them harder and help them navigate the early pitfalls of leadership – inside and outside of work. Work your network to find someone who might be willing to provide a bit of free (or relatively cheap) coaching every now and then to help keep you on track.

Related: How Leadership Coaching Can Lead Your Team To Sustained Success

2. Connect growing founders to paid coaches

Founders of expanding companies have experienced enough success to know where their problems lie, but they haven’t mastered everything. Paid executive coaches can hold founders accountable and provide detailed wisdom during critical decisions, making them a worthwhile investment.

Not sure what to look for in a good executive coach? Countless executives have gleaned incredible insights from the likes of Jerry Colonna, who uses self-inquiry to help executives hone their leadership skills and better understand themselves. Others take a more solution-oriented approach, asking questions to steer executives through routine business issues. Such was the case with Silicon Valley legend Bill Campbell. Find someone who meshes with your personal style, and view the monthly fee as a worthwhile investment in your company’s future.

According to the study by the International Coach Federation, 23 percent of coaches surveyed said they primarily focus on executives. Growing founders should not hesitate to invest some time and money into someone who can help them get more out of themselves.

3. Develop successful founders into coaches and advisors 

The path to coaching is relatively simple for successful entrepreneurs, because it’s typically one of the key traits you develop as a leader. Find one or two first-time founders whom you truly believe in, and give them an hour or two of your time every month for coaching sessions. This will keep your coaching and leadership skills sharp, and you will be helping the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I am still working to become a better coach and leader, but I do advise several start-ups across the country. I also find myself in an advisory role for many of our accelerator start-ups. We recently took seven of them to GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, and it was great to spend time mentoring start-up founders while learning about their unique struggles.

Related: How Business Coaching Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Once you have some experience, you might consider doing a paid coaching engagement with an active or growing founder. As you break your way into the coaching scene, don’t forget to continue to work with your own coach – you’ll still need some help along the way.

Executive coaching shouldn’t be rare or reserved for well-connected entrepreneurs. A good coach can turn raw talent into refined expertise or refined talent into renowned success. From the greenest start-up to the most seasoned veterans, coaching is the key to unlocking untapped potential.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why Your Fleet Management Plays a Pivotal Role In Your Business

Fleet managers and fleet management tools are often associated with large logistics and transportation companies.

TomTom Telematics

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The challenge

Fleet managers and fleet management tools are often associated with large logistics and transportation companies.

But, if your company:

  • Relies on transportation and vehicles to service your clients or deliver a product
  • Is interested in improving efficiencies and productivity, and saving on the bottom line
  • Has transport costs as a line-item on your expense report
  • Then you are a fleet manager — whether the title exists in your business or not.

Related: Fleet Tools Will Help You Get More Done In Less Time

The solution

Why do companies need fleet management?

WEBFLEET lets people work better together to achieve business results. When everyone is connected, people can work better together and this can help make smarter decisions to help businesses achieve their goals. These can include: Improved efficiency, improved productivity, improved accountability, greater focus on service, greater responsibility, and innovation.

WEBFLEET gets you closer to your drivers

When your team is connected, this helps everyone make better decisions — and that facilitates happy customers, great governance and reaching new goals for your business.

Quick to implement and easy to use, WEBFLEET provides immediate vehicle insight, tracking, messaging and controls, totally in sync with your core business processes.

webfleetWhat is WEBFLEET?

Software as a Service (online fleet management software) that provides businesses with immediate information about what is happening with their vehicles, people and orders in the field, designed for any business size and every vehicle type (passenger cars, vans, trucks).

WEBFLEET connects the vehicles and drivers with the staff in the office, bringing them closer together.

WEBFLEET provides vehicle tracking, fleet optimisation, workforce management and the option to integrate business applications.

The right fleet management solution will not only help you save on your bottom line, it can help you improve efficiencies and productivity, and give your customers a better overall experience.

Related: Why Mitigating Your Risk Can Drive Up Your Fleets Profits

TomTom Telematics is assisting its customers through the following solutions and differentiators:

  • A future-proof solution, thanks to continuous innovation. 17 years of experience in processing big data and turning it into actionable insights for TomTom Telematics’ clients means ground-breaking and continuous innovation is par for the course. These innovations include the industry’s first SaaS, first APIs, OptiDrive 360, maximum reliability and security due to an ISO 27001 certification and full reporting.
  • Proof through platform. WEBFLEET offers high standards of confidentiality, integrity and availability. It also offers an API that seamlessly integrates into any business process. TomTom Telematics also has the largest partner ecosystem with hundreds of proven integrations and add-on applications in the world.
  • An optimised user-experience. TomTom Telematics technology and products have been integrated to create an optimised user experience, including maps, traffic services and driver terminals.
  • Workflow efficiency. Help deliver higher standards of customer service and improve productivity through real-time visibility on vehicle location and mileage reporting, and live and historic geo-location data, which enriches dynamic routing and scheduling applications.

 

  • 77% – of workers drive over the speed limit due to work pressure
  • 30% – of your vehicles’ total cost of ownership is influenced by the way the car is driven

Visit telematics.tomtom.com/tellmemore and follow us on Twitter @TomTomWEBFLEET

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Leading

How You Can Make Leadership Excellence An Effortless Effort

From my childhood I was literally fascinated by the seemingly effortless performances of individuals whom have mastered their craft.

Dirk Coetsee

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“Wu-Wei” – From original Chinese, meaning effortless effort

From my childhood I was literally fascinated by the seemingly effortless performances of individuals whom have mastered their craft. Images of Luciano Pavorotti hitting high C notes with simplified grace, Chris Cornell’s raw rock voice hitting gravel and then reaching for the heavens, Lang Langs’ majestic hands creating unimaginable sounds on the ivory whites of a piano, Tony Robbins’ flaming and scorching energy, Churchills’ effortless and eloquent speeches, Bransons’ unrelenting passion for business and people, Jona Lomus’ awesome power, and Bolts’ graceful running leaves me in a state of inspired awe.

When the state of amazement enthused by great individuals dissipate we are left with a burning question:

How does one become a leader in any field and how does one reach a state where optimal performance virtually becomes a natural state?

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

A vast amount of experiential learning and volumes of information would empower an individual to attempt an answer to this question. This writing is not an attempt at a solution to this complex question but instead only serves as a guide to those individuals whom has a burning desire to earnestly start on their search to find the truth for themselves.

Are leaders and top performers simply born with a great talent and therefore naturally will outperform others? Not necessarily so. Some modern Leaders such as Gary Vaynerchuck are totally unimpressed by talent yet very impressed by a knack for people skills.

The Legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi used to say: “Talent simply means you have not done it yet.”

The aforesaid implies that talent might be a bonus yet has to be combined with hard and effective work, as well as toughened mental capacity, to be moulded into skills required for performance at the highest level.

winston-churchill

“We shall not melt in the fire but instead be tempered by it” – The great Winston Churchill was alluding to the British nations willingness to endure great hardships and be transformed into one unified front and a patriotic nation during the carnage of the second world war. Most great Leaders ultimately learnt that hardships were not something to resist but rather something to invite in when it knocks at your door as it is the very hardships that teach and shape us, that is if we allow it to.

Those who fear their own inner greatness will run from the hardships and thereby neglect the wonderful yet very uncomfortable opportunity to grow as a leader and a human being. The daring few who would embrace their inner greatness, foster their own commitment and willingly be’ tempered by fire’ have started their journey towards greatness.

When embarking on this journey reflect on the fact that never was a great leader made without help.  A high level of self -awareness which is a basic requirement of effective Leadership dictates that we must get rid of the small voice of the ego that tempts us into daring to think that we could know it all and do all by ourselves. Be open to advice, seek help from the wise, and more importantly act on good advice.

When you earnestly seek mentorship the one that turns you down in general was not the right one in the first place. Alternatively, he or she turned you down because you were not ready to be mentored and must first earnestly seek your own heart for the truth about your intentions.

Your intent is the crucial factor and on the path to greatness everyone would do well to introspectively seek every corner of their hearts and minds and ask:

  • What do I honestly seek?
  • Is it fame or to help others or both?
  • Do I have pure selfish intent, or do I want to give back and coach other Leaders?

Related: Managing Resistance To Change: An Essential Management And Leadership Skill

Without sacrifice, without a burning desire to succeed, without help, and without ethical intent this journey is ‘a bridge too far’. A Leadership journey based on a hunger for power over others and greed for money might take you to great heights initially but the fall from those dizzying heights is far and excruciatingly painful.

What follows is an attempt to answer the very general questions facing most of us when we decide on whether we should embark on a personal Leadership journey or not:

Can anyone Lead?

Yes, it is a matter of intent, effective work, mentorship, sacrifice, people skills and continuous learning amongst other factors.

Does a title such as CEO, shareholder, president, professor imply that I am a leader?

No, a title is merely a name allocated to a position, the behaviours that led me to that title and the behaviours displayed for as long as I am in that position determines whether I was a leader or not, while I had or claimed to have that title. Leadership is not a title it consists out of behaviours that gives a title deep meaning and validity.

Do I have to have a formal qualification to be recognised as a leader?

No. Your behaviour determines whether you are a leader or not.  Continuous learning is a basic Leadership behaviour. Whether that means you obtain a formal qualification or learn through a mentor which learning does not result in a formal qualification has no bearing on your Leadership capacity or capabilities.

Contemplation of the above answers to the general questions that a lot of people consider might lead the reader to think that the state of “Wu-Wei”- “Effortless-effort “can only be achieved through a lot of effort. In thinking that you are correct, yet it is not only a matter of effort. To get to the ultimate state of performance as a leader each one of us must be so committed to a cause higher than ourselves that we are willing to be ‘tempered by fire’. We must cast our egos aside and remain “teachable”, and most importantly give back by coaching other leaders.

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