Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Richard Branson | How to let go to grow

I recently came across a letter I wrote in 1986 to a man named Jack Clayden, thanking him for all he did for me and Virgin over the years. “It is not an exaggeration to say that we would never have got off the ground without you," I wrote. “Your understanding since then very much kept us going, and I’ll always be enormously grateful to you. I always saw you in the early days as the kind of second father in my business life and then as a friend—not only to me but to my whole family."

Who was Jack? Our first accountant. People often ask me for my secret to success: the answer is Jack and people like him, because they had skills that I did not. In some areas they knew better than I did how to make my vision a reality.

If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate. When my friends and I started up Virgin, I knew that I was lacking vital knowledge on some subjects, and so I started learning this skill very early on in my career.

I was never any good with numbers. Rather than act as our business’s accountant and do the job badly, I found Jack, who shared my vision for the business and wanted to get involved, but who also understood the difference between net and gross.

I had that letter in mind a few weeks ago, during an enjoyable and inspiring visit to the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg where I shared some of my experiences with a great group of promising entrepreneurs. During a panel discussion, I heard some excellent pitches from five Branson Centre entrepreneurs: James Coetzee, Bonga Bangani, Reamo Tshabalala, Khomoto Mopai and Lesego Mathaba.

They had good ideas for businesses, but they were all facing a similar problem: figuring out how to juggle their commitments and still have time to think about the big picture. This is a common quandary for business founders, since the early days are all about survival. After launch, so much of your energy goes to keeping the business afloat as you resolve the unexpected issues connected to developing your product or service. But you must be able to move on from that role, or the business will not grow and thrive in the long run.

My fellow panellists were Yossi Hasson, owner and founder of SYNAQ, the largest provider of cloud email services in sub-Saharan Africa; Stephen van Coller, chief executive of corporate and investment banking at Absa Bank; and Given Mkhari, CEO of MSG Afrika Investment Holdings. During our discussion of delegation, I pointed to them as good examples of leaders who knew how to let go in order to grow.

Afterwards I walked around the market that had been set up to showcase the entrepreneurs’ start-ups and browsed the brilliant products on display. I was impressed with how passionate and knowledgeable the entrepreneurs were about their offerings. They were superb at conveying a company’s purpose and excitement (after all, they started it). At that stage, what they really needed was to find people they could trust to put their plans into action.

When you are ready to make your first hires, look for people who understand your passion, want to add to your ideas and can envision ways to make improvements. Keep in mind that you do not want yes-men or clones: you want people on board who have strong views on how to scale up the business over the long term, along with the skills and presence of mind to push the company forward in the short term, and the ability to manage crucial day-to-day tasks.

Delegating to these people will free you to plan for the future and find new ways to develop your company—but delegating is not an easy skill to master. Five decades after Virgin’s launch, I’m still learning. In fact, when I get really enthusiastic about one of our new products or companies, our Virgin CEOs probably wish I was a little less hands-on sometimes.

The key is to find the right balance. While you absolutely must delegate, if you become too disconnected from your business, it can quickly spiral in a direction you never wanted. But if you hire incredible people to lead your companies, your departments and your teams, you can have the best of both worlds.

BY NYT Syndicate

©2015/Richard Branson

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog

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