One of the best things about being a lifelong entrepreneur is that I have never had a bad boss—in fact, I’ve never had any kind of boss! One possible drawback many people would see to this is that I have never had the opportunity to storm into my boss’s office and yell: “I quit!” However, I would always advise against doing this, however sorely you are tempted.
By all means, if you want to leave a job you are unsatisfied in for something more worthwhile—especially if you are thinking of starting your own business—then go for it. But carefully consider your method of leaving. It may be sorely tempting to walk out in a blaze of glory, but you could blow the potential for later exciting opportunities with the colleagues you are leaving. Explain your reasoning, share your vision for the future, and make an effort to keep in touch. Who knows what the future will hold?
One of the great things about Virgin is that when talented people leave us, they often go on to create their own brilliant businesses. Take Tony Fernandes, who went on from a career in finance at Virgin Records to running AirAsia. Or Tom Alexander, who moved on from Virgin Mobile to revitalise EE. Or Talli Osborne, who went from Virgin Mobile Canada star to launching her own inspirational speaking career. All of them left with the best wishes of their previous companies, we’ve all stayed friends, and I’m sure there will be opportunities for us to collaborate further in the future.
As a business owner, it is equally important to not burn your bridges when leaving a company. A company is simply a group of people, and if you need to sell a business, your number one priority should be the wellbeing of your staff. The example that comes to the forefront of my mind was one of the toughest decisions of my life. We had built Virgin Records into the biggest independent record label on the planet. I had just signed Janet Jackson, in a hot air balloon, and we were literally on top of the world.
But BA’s Dirty Tricks campaign was hitting Virgin Atlantic hard, and I had to make the call to sell our record company in order to give our airline the financial clout to compete. I found myself running down Ladbroke Grove in London with tears streaming down my face and a check for a billion dollars in my hand. However, I knew in my heart of hearts it was the right decision, and the ongoing success of Virgin Atlantic and the wider Group—not to mention the decline of the wider record business—suggest it was the correct call.
It was incredibly tough to quit the music business after so many good times, mainly because I was leaving so many wonderful people behind. But rather than disappear under a cloud, I went around the office hugging our staff, and have stayed in touch with many of them. Virgin EMI is still a part of the Virgin family, and after a sticky few years are now firmly back on track. We celebrated 40 years of disruptions in 2013, and since then have been going from strength to strength, winning Record Company of the Year and nurturing great artists from Emeli Sandé to Bastille, Laura Marling to Jake Bugg.
I was in New York late last year and saw a Virgin sign on an office building. I wandered in to see who was around, and found a few Virgin Records staff, who had been with us for decades. They loved the brand, loved the music, loved the spirit of the company (and loved this Mick Jagger poster!).
If we had burnt our bridges back in the ’80s, that delightful chance encounter would never have taken place. So think twice before you burn your bridges—build some instead!