Billionaire Richard Branson first started airline Virgin Atlantic after his flight was canceled from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands.
Instead of taking the next available flight, he decided to “hire a plane” and thought at first as a joke wrote ‘Virgin Airlines’ on top of a blackboard along with the line ’39 one way to BVI.’
“I went out to round up all the passengers who had been bumped and I filled up my first plane.”
Fast forward 33 years – Virgin Atlantic is now the second-largest carrier in the United Kingdom.
But – along the way – there were hiccups. British Airways didn’t like the competition and during a “dirty tricks” campaign tried to detour the entrepreneur.
“We had about four planes flying, and [British Airways] went to extraordinary lengths to put us out of business,” recalls Branson on an episode of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. “They had a team of people illegally accessing our computer information and ringing up our passengers and pretending that they were from Virgin, telling them that flights were cancelled and switching them onto BA.”
Branson won $945,000 by bringing a lawsuit against British Air, the largest libel settlement in UK history. But, what did Branson do? He didn’t pocket the cash. Instead, he gave it right back to his employees.
“It was Christmas time,” he tells Raz. “It became known as the BA Christmas bonus — we distributed it to all our staff equally.”
In fact, Branson credits his success to the hundreds of people who work for him, not the other way around.
“The fundamental driver of our success at Virgin has, and will always be, our people working together. To be successful in business, and in life, you need to connect and collaborate.”
This isn’t the first time Branson has done something like this either. The CEO of Virgin Group announced an incredible new job perk at his company at a time when it was relatively unheard of – he allowed new fathers to take an entire year off of work so they could go learn to be dads while receiving their salary in full. Mothers would also receive the same perk.
Here’s what he said about his employees when he announced the new policy:
“If you take care of your employees they will take care of your business. As a father and now a granddad to three wonderful grandchildren, I know how magical the first year of a child’s life is but also how much hard work it takes.
I’m delighted that we can offer this support to our staff so that they can enjoy parental leave to the full as we continue to our work in changing business for good.”
It’s rare to hear of a CEO give back to his employees in such a way, but Branson did. This should serve as a model for CEO’s everywhere – not just in America.