The founder of the Virgin Group shares his views on finding time as an entrepreneur for a full family life.
Aspiring entrepreneurs and business people who are struggling with the responsibilities of a demanding career and family often ask how to juggle both, or if I think you can.
Here are just three of the questions that have come up repeatedly over the years.
Can you be a successful entrepreneur and still devote time to your family?
You can and must make time for both family and business. It is important to build a strong family life: It helps to give you a better perspective and balance in business. Moreover, a key responsibility for each generation is to bring up the next generation — and you need to be present to do this.
Since I have almost always worked from home, it’s been relatively easy for me to spend time with my family. Once, my “office” was a small houseboat in Little Venice, near London; I remember the kids crawling around the floor while I had my meetings.
Even when we moved to a house in London’s Holland Park, I used it as an office and moved out only when my wife Joan complained about all the meetings at home. Mind you, I moved the office two doors down the road!
How do you balance family life with the time required to set up and build a business?
Spending a lot of time with the family also made me adapt the way I work. This has been one of the keys to Virgin’s success. I always made sure we had proper family holidays — time spent away from work and the office. Spending time away taught me the art and importance of delegating from an early age. I quickly learned what I was good at and made sure I brought in people to help with those areas where I was weaker.
As Virgin got bigger and we set up more businesses, they had to be run from actual offices in various buildings. I minimized the time I spent inside those buildings. This helped me keep the bigger picture in perspective, remaining alert to new opportunities. I could focus on the important decisions without getting bogged down with too many daily details. Taking yourself outside the hurly-burly of everyday business allows you to make clearer and longer-term decisions.
Being away from the office for periods of time also means you develop a strong bond of trust with your senior colleagues. In my case, we have built a very strong team of committed and talented managers who will fight for the business through the tough times.
There is a balance, though, and you must be careful not to be too distant or absent from a company. An entrepreneur must make sure to be seen by the staff and spend time getting their feedback and ideas. Listening to others is a key quality of a good business leader.
How important is time off to you?
A lack of time off and short holidays are constant bugbears in the modern business world. To keep yourself and your staff motivated and healthy, it is important to take holidays and get a break from work. The right balance will ensure that you have a committed and enthusiastic staff that performs better when at work instead of looking for excuses to take sick days.
Keeping fit and healthy is also a key to staying on top in business. Exercising every day – a swim, a run or a game of tennis – has given me more energy to tackle the everyday decisions. Since I have enjoyed what I do, I have never felt resentment at missing out by being stuck at work.
My philosophy of living life to the fullest and taking advantage of good family holidays has turned up business opportunities along the way. On a trip to Africa we discovered Ulusaba, our stunning game reserve near the Kruger National Park. While in Morocco, waiting for the balloon expedition to take off, I discovered the Kasbah Tamadot, nestled in the Atlas Mountains. Both of these properties are now key parts of the Virgin hotel portfolio.
Actually, many of my business opportunities have come through personal experiences on my travels — during the time that is really blurred between work and play. I may have met someone who suggested an idea or visited a place that sparked a new venture.
Now more than ever, it is really important that companies, including Virgin, be more flexible in how they approach staff and time off — through job-sharing, flexible hours or working at home. Finding the right balance for yourself and your staff may be the key building block for a successful, resilient and happy business.