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.”
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?
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.
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.
Top Inspiring Speakers Give Entrepreneurship Insights On World Speech Day
Pretoria, South Africa; March 2018 – World Speech Day South Africa will take place on the 15th of March 2018 from 10h00 to 14h00 at the Tuks Monate, University of Pretoria.
Our Stellar line up of speakers includes Keynote Speaker, Abdullah Verachia, as well as Guest Speakers Taddy Blecher, Kiara Nirghin and Natalie du Toit, and will feature Speakers from Crawford Preparatory Pretoria, the Wild Olive Society and the University of Pretoria Debate Society, under the theme of “Entrepreneurship”.
Abdullah Verachia serves as the CEO of The Strategists where he plays an active role in assisting companies and organisations craft competitive future strategies. He has significant expertise in strategy, competitiveness and sector trends and facilitates a number of high level strategy sessions and breakaways for companies and governments and also speaks globally in this area.
Having presented and consulted in over 60 cities globally, Abdullah has been recognised as a leading speaker, disruptor, strategist and thought leader on competitiveness and the interplay between strategy and disruptive innovation.
Speakers who are passionate about education
Dr Taddy Blecher is the CEO of the Community and Individual Development Association (C.I.D.A.) which founded the Maharishi Institute (MI).
MI facilitates university education, vocational training and employment for unemployed youth. Dr Blecher is passionate about the approach of Consciousness-Based Education, a system of education developing the full potential of every student.
This has led the Maharishi Institute to winning the first prize in a global competition to find the most innovative education initiative in the world. Through his work with C.I.D.A, over 17,250 unemployed South Africans have been educated, found employment and moved from poverty to the middle-class. Dr Blecher also co-founded the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship with Sir Richard Branson.
Speakers who are both trail blazers and award winners
Kiara Nirghin, the 2016 winner of the Google Science Fair and Community Impact Award for the Middle East and Africa was recently acclaimed one of the Times and The Guardians top 30 most influential teens in the world for her invention, ‘No More Thirsty Crops’.
She is currently a student ambassador for WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and was nominated as a student leader for 2017 as part of the Three Dot Dash initiative. She was a speaker at TEDxPretoria, Forbes Women’s events and been featured in various publications both in South Africa and worldwide.
Olympian and Paralympian, Natalie du Toit is a South African swimmer specialist open water swimmer and has also won five Paralympic championship titles at the Paralympic Games in 2004. She became the first amputee swimmer to qualify among abled-bodied swimmers for the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing.
Natalie has moved on from her inspiring sporting career to apply her skills and determination to the business world in the field of Reputation Management. She was the first person globally to carry a national flag in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Her goal is to inspire all South Africans to believe that anything is achievable, even against all odds.
Thanks to the University of Pretoria, WSD South Africa is able to host an audience of 300 people this year. Our sponsors also include Akanni Office Furniture Manufacturers.
By supporting World Speech Day in developing this community of change-makers and action takers – the entrepreneurs, the dreamers, the thinkers, the doers, and thereby engaging with inspired citizens and providing a catalyst for inspiration and a platform for collaboration; our sponsors understand, value and work within a similar vision and approach.
World Speech Day South Africa
In 2017, WSD Southern Africa was launched. Under the theme of “Demonstrating the Art of Public Speaking’, 55 speakers including Youth, Professional Speakers, Toastmasters, Tedx Speakers as well as representatives from Government, Parastatals, Business and Not-for-Profits from several Southern African Countries graced the event.
Now known as WSD South Africa, the focus has shifted to intensifying efforts to increase the number of WSD events within South Africa. The theme of “Entrepreneurship” was selected on the premise that the Wild Olive Society is a Mastermind Group that Promotes Entrepreneurship. WSD South Africa’s vision is to increase the number of participating events to between 50 and 100 events throughout the country.
With “Active Citizenship” as the 2019 theme, we will not only contribute to developing public speaking skills in young people but get to be a part of this massive global phenomenon. Moreover, this platform will also serve as an opportunity for South African citizens to share in a unified voice with the rest of the world, the different ways we endeavour to and succeed in moving forward to make our country an even better place for us as a nation.
WSD South Africa will serve to complement the other mediums that are already actively doing this by keeping the dialogue on “Active Citizenship” ongoing throughout the year and will present perhaps another opportunity to come together with a common purpose.
World Speech Day
The 15th of March is World Speech Day (WSD); a day dedicated to celebrating speeches and speech making through live events all over the world. Founded by Mr Simon Gibson (who resides in the UK), World Speech Day is a Not-for-Profit Organisation; a global effort with local impact – helping local communities share ideas by bringing people together through nothing more than the simple power of speech.
President Kennedy once said: “the only reason to make a speech is to change the world.” World Speech Day is fashioned around a simple idea: “Change The World”. The global theme for WSD is “Thoughts for a Better World”.
WSD acts as a source for new thinking – releasing the “wisdom of crowds” – gathering ideas from the unexpected, usually unheard voices of Everyman. It is about tapping into the truly original and inspirational – and then amplifying and making these voices available. The event is aimed at demonstrating skills in public speaking to youth throughout the world with the purpose of teaching them to use their voices as instruments to make the world a better place.
WSD Speakers are encouraged to put forward their ideas on how to make the world a better place.
World Speech Day has been recognised by the US Senate declaring March 15 National Speech and Debate Education Day in the US. World Speech Day was launched in 2015, with the 2016 event including more than 300 events in 30 countries; increasing to more than 60 participating countries by 2017 and 100 in 2018.
What Happens When Founders Are Fired
Replacements face a daunting task.
When a founder steps down from the company following its acquisition – as David Karp recently did at microblogging site Tumblr – it creates an urgent need for a leader who can bridge two worlds: digital native and corporate. It’s a rare combination that, in my studies of “rock star” talent in high demand these days, won’t be easy to find: a leader who can guide the company forward and, equally important, prevent other key people from leaving.
Entrepreneurial-minded founders don’t enjoy spending their days in meetings, corporate presentations and strategy reviews. This talent tends to be action-driven and hard-headed and is likely to lose patience with playing the corporate game. (I know from personal experience, having left six months after my first company was acquired.)
Karp’s departure from Tumblr, which he founded when he was only 20, follows a well-established pattern. Harvard Business School research has shown that founder-CEOs are often replaced precisely because their companies are successful. While Tumblr’s data is closely guarded, its revenue is believed to be substantially in excess of $20 million.
On a broader level, Karp’s decision to step down is part of the scope of leadership challenges that occur as entrepreneurial firms transition from one phase to the next. Founders who are so used to doing everything themselves – product creation, sales, pitching to investors, managing stakeholders – often need support in knowing how to navigate these transitions. That’s why they need “hugs and kicks,” as I call it: Tough love and guidance from board members and advisers who help them stay motivated and understand the reality of what they’re facing.
That might have changed things for another founder, John Schattner of Papa John’s, who recently stepped down from the CEO role, while continuing as chairman, after linking a sales slump at the company to NFL protests during the national anthem. The company later apologised for his comments.
Although it’s well-known that startups benefit from having a board (typically, outside investors will insist on this), many entrepreneurs delay bringing in advisers. When a startup is successful, there’s little incentive for the founder/CEO to undertake the time-consuming process of recruiting board members. Then there is the need to compensate board members in some capacity, which may mean giving away equity stakes, which founders tend to guard jealously.
Trusted advisers, though, can make all the difference. As a serial entrepreneur, I was fortunate at the age of 27 to have management consultant and bestselling author Patrick Lencioni as my executive coach – it was literally life-changing. Now as an adviser myself, one of my key points for entrepreneurs (and for employers, in general) is about finding the right talent – especially those who are stronger in areas where the founder and other key leaders are weak (for example, recruiting a strong No. 2 as a chief operating officer). I’ve found it’s much more efficient for leaders to focus on their strengths than to expend so much energy trying to shore up their weak areas.
While some companies such as Google and McKinsey are strong recruiters, most employers are “sloppy buyers” of talent. Some 50 percent of new hires don’t work out, a degree of inaccuracy that is inexcusable for anything in business. Compounding the challenge at digital/internet companies, it’s a seller’s market for talent today, particularly for highly in-demand specialties such as artificial intelligence. The most qualified “rock stars” can basically name where they want to go, what they want to do and how much they expect to earn.
When the talent market gets really tight – as it is now, the tightest we’ve seen since 1999 – employers often default to hiring someone who is deemed good enough, rather than operate with an open position while continuing to recruit the right person. The problem is that hiring a “warm body,” who is only a B- or C-player, undermines team performance. The existing rock stars will be the first to leave (and will find themselves in demand), because they want to be part of a winning team. It seems counterintuitive because maintaining a vacancy – holding out for a top performer – means the slack must be taken up by everyone else. But, the rock stars on the team will love it because they know their employer is being highly selective.
For entrepreneurial firms everywhere, the challenge is always building a pipeline of talent: Qualified candidates need to be developed ahead of time to succeed key players in leadership roles, as well as to manage functions such as sales and technology. No matter how many other “priorities” entrepreneurs have in growing their business, having the right talent must always be at the top of the list. Without the right talent, even leaders with the best ideas will be severely hamstrung in executing strategy.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Leadership: The Principle Of Authenticity
Knowing whether you are an introvert, ambivert, or extrovert, what your likes and dislikes are just means that you are navigating the periphery of your existence.
‘Know thyself’ – Socrates
Immerse yourself in the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates’ words and for a moment consider that this famous scribe possibly assigned deeper meaning to the knowledge of self, than for example simply understanding your personality type. Knowing whether you are an introvert, ambivert, or extrovert, what your likes and dislikes are just means that you are navigating the periphery of your existence.
To get to a deeper understanding of yourself in terms of what your true infinite potential is and what your “deep driving desire” (purpose) is, is far more meaningful work and creates a deep level of wisdom in terms of the self and others.
“Whatsoever your deepest driving desire is, so shall your thoughts be, as your thoughts are so shall your deeds be, and your deeds shall echo in eternity”
As entrepreneurs we will do well to be reminded constantly that our businesses are extensions of ourselves and our teams. To do the work of self-development and the development of others on the deepest level possible is the key to developing and growing your business. First and foremost invest in your own development as an entrepreneur and person and in that of your team, for when business teams stagnate the business stagnates.
Be yourself. Be Authentic
Trying to be a Tony Robbins or a Richard Branson when you are simply not like them is futile effort. You are not here to be someone else you are here to be the best form of yourself as an entrepreneur and person. Wasting the energy to try to be someone else will, in time just leave you tired, unhappy and unfulfilled. To be authentically you, you must first find out who you truly are under the periphery of personality types, likes and dislikes.
Take the first step towards authenticity and honestly and deeply ponder the questions of:
What really gives me peace, or what will? What in life truly excites me and sustainably so? What do I sincerely have passion for and a deep love for? When I completely stop acting up to others expectations of me and be who I really am and do what I really want to do, what would that picture look like?
Being authentically grateful
To ensure that he lives a life of authentic gratitude a fellow coach, William Badenhorst regularly asks himself the following very meaningful question:
“What if I were to wake up tomorrow morning only with the things that I was grateful for the previous night?”
Sincerely reflecting on this question casts light on the level of gratitude that you live with. Develop authentic gratitude even for the trials and challenges on your entrepreneurial and leadership journey, for as the great Persian poet Rumi exclaimed:
“Through the wound, the light seeps in”
These beautiful poetic words alludes to the fact that there is always something positive to learn and take from even severe challenges, that is if one is willing to look deeper into the situation and be truly objective about it.
Lets’ get practical
Within a high pressure and highly competitive (within the business team) environment wherein creating an image is important as opposed to acting according to character, authenticity suffers. When you as an entrepreneur and leader create a paradigm shift towards constant self-improvement within your business and hire and fire according to character (true self within the context of this writing) and not image (false self within the context of this).
- By example make it ok to admit your fears, weaknesses and struggles. If you hide them they never surface and thus are never worked upon and improved. Firstly admit your fears to your team and also explain what you are doing about it and then create an environment where they would openly share theirs and what they are going to do about it.
- Be authentically you, if you are an operations expert be that and focus on that do not try to create the image of being a marketing genius when you are not, just develop the skill of finding the right person in your team to handle the marketing.
- Starting now go on a lifelong journey of constant learning. If you do not like to read, listen to podcasts, or go and learn directly from a mentor, alternatively there is a wealth of free information on the net.
- Ask yourself earnestly: “Where has my excuses got me to?”. Stop entertaining your own excuses because they form self –inflicted stumbling blocks on your journey.
- Let your voice of authenticity and your truth be heard within the business environment. Withholding the value of your ideas and insights is a disservice to the business.
- Take action. A meeting is purely talk. Thinking is just that, thinking. Procrastination is the fertiliser that problems use to grow. Do!!! Think before you do yes, but just for as long as really, really necessary and then do! Empires are built by building it not by thinking about it and doing nothing.
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