Seizing Opportunities with Common Sense


Virgin Group

Richard Branson has famously stated, “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” Although I fully grasp Richard’s statement and the practical spirit behind it, I feel that this message is, nevertheless, lost on the vast majority of American companies. Sad but true. An example would be helpful.

I once networked a lady I knew to a position she was perfectly suited to perform. It required three or four technical applications that she would need to pick up, but nothing drastic. By coincidence, I knew the company recruiter personally. When I gave him a summary of her formidable skill set and impressive personality strengths, he responded in a manner that left me with the impression that my explanation was completely lost on him. It was an exasperating experience for me, given that these characteristics in total would enable the lady I had recommended to acquire the technical skills my recruiter friend was so myopically focused on. He has since rotated five hires through this position, which amounts not only to a waste of everyone’s time, but the costs to his employer of retraining five-fold. Flexibility isn’t his long suit.

It’s easy to demand unbending qualifications in the mistaken belief that this will spare an employer from having to train a pre-qualified candidate. That sounds great on the short run. But what about the longer term implications of this attitude?

The friend whom I suggested as a candidate has handled so many different (and difficult) personalities with aplomb. She has defused innumerable crisis situations with emotional intelligence. In addition, she listens to every idea that is brought before her, takes notes and makes sure to validate every person, whether their suggested solution is accepted or not. Her seasoning has led her to become proactive, and she can spot problems a mile away. Moreover, she personifies “personality-plus”. This is unique and indispensable –particularly in today’s short-sighted culture.

Last night, I noticed a teenage girl wearing a T-shirt bearing the likeness of the late movie actor Steve McQueen. I was amused that an entire generation of youth today are discovering McQueen, known in his brief lifetime as the “King of Cool”.

A throw-away kid from Beech Grove, Indiana, McQueen became the highest paid movie actor in the world from 1969 to his untimely death at age 50 in 1980. As I pondered the Branson quote, I listened to a rare audio CD in my collection at home. It features   McQueen as a speaker before a Film Class at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles in 1977.

Steve was invited to discuss a seldom seen film that he made, the Henrik Ibsen classic ‘An Enemy of the People’. This movie was a risky gamble for McQueen, who was better known for his action films.

During the question and answer period, one student asked Steve how he learned about production. Here are excerpts from his answer, and they are directly attributable to Richard Branson’s point:

McQueen: “I started getting educated in production when I first did a film called ‘The Blob’ (audible laughter). That’s how I started. And from there, I went into television to do ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ for three years. It was a half-hour show, and took three says to shoot it. Two days out and one day in. That gave me preparation for production. Out of that, I ended up being lucky enough to get better parts, make better money, more sophisticated production. And I learned my craft by being exposed.

“Now, I was never interested in producing on-screen. I have an ego. I mean, I’d love to see Steve McQueen produced by. But I thought it was bad for my audience, because people would just like to see me act. They’re not interested in whether I’m producing or not. And there are many things I was proud of that I could have put my name on. But I wanted to get someone who knew more than I did, so I could get educated by him. So, by paying his salary I could learn from him.”

I suggest that listening not only to what is being said by a potential job candidate, but measuring the passion that candidate brings to his or her answers in a telephone or in-person interview is of paramount importance. Filling a job is one thing. But having the candidate “own it” to the point where they never want to leave is another. I’ll close with a final observation by Richard Branson.

“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy. If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile,” Branson says.

By not treating employees well, companies risk losing customers over bad service. To address this, Branson says he has mandated that each of his Virgin Group of companies prioritize employees first, customers second, and shareholders third.

“Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy,” he added.

Hiring a candidate who becomes indispensable is not difficult. However, it requires a focus on personality characteristics that can add swift and sustainable value to any company.






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