Making a Difference: Business Can Be A Force For Good

The man behind the Virgin empire, Sir Richard Branson, opened the 2011 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition (Going to be a great event…follow the action #shrm11) on Sunday afternoon in a Q&A session that covered the unconventional entrepreneur’s childhood lesson’s (he suffered from dyslexia and dropped out of High School to launch his fist business), appetite for risk, philosophy on culture, talent and his impetus to take you on a ride into outer space. He is an absolutely fearless entrepreneur!

While he acknowledged a bit of luck on the journey he also shared that the very core of building a successful business is to make a difference in the lives of others. “I am inquisitive. I love making a difference in other people’s lives. There is no point in starting a business if you aren’t going to make a difference.” In discussing his philosophy on business with the 14,000 attendees he talked about the opportunity for HR to “influence” the C suite, engagement, culture, talent and indicated how very essential the people strategy is to the success of the Virgin enterprise. Common sense but not always common practice.

He didn’t hold back on the importance of removing the wrong kind of people – “the kind that destroy the spirit of the company” – from the business or the awful approach American business has to workplace flexibility. Two clear opportunities for improvement that HR can most definitely “influence”.

Implied throughout much of the conversation was his appetite for adventure, passion pursuits and tolerance for risk. While it hasn’t always worked out perfectly (Virgin Cola) it most certainly has been a style that has proven essential to Virgin’s success. That is a message HR and just about everyone in business today can embrace during this time of unprecedented transformation and change.  We all have the opportunity to have an impact. To make a difference.

The best part about his opening address? His check goes right to charity. Virgin Unite.


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