By Santino Marinucci
No words can describe the atmosphere surrounding the Toronto event, “The Power Within: Conversation with Sir Richard Branson & Peter Aceto,” held last Wednesday, October 27, which had two of the leading business thinkers together in a room filled with impressionable minds to talk about the future of business and leadership.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Empire, and Peter Aceto, current President and CEO of ING Direct Canada, the minds drew hundreds to the event, are no strangers to leadership. Both have plans to help reshape their industries and instil new leadership strategies, which will help other business leaders outline our future economy.
The event began with impressive video montages of each company showing how they each have managed to define their companies and move forward to become powerful world leaders in business.
This was exemplified by ING Direct's method of getting down to the consumer's level, and incorporating an excellent customer service based system from its foundation, thus becoming a leader in customer satisfaction in the financial sector.
Upon viewing the montage for Virgin, it set a different tone: one of perseverance and drive. It showcased Sir Richard Branson from his humble beginnings through the creation of his first company, Virgin Records. It then took the audience on a whirlwind ride exposing us to Branson’s 350 other companies that he has created over the years, ending with his newest venture, Virgin Galactic.
The event was moderated by prominent CBC reporter Amanda Lang and led the discussions with a series of questions for both the speakers. Peter Aceto was first to speak and was asked if it was possible to teach leadership qualities, or if people are just inherently born leaders.
“Well I would suggest that I was probably not born with it, however I do think leadership can be taught,” he said. “Actually if I didn’t believe that, I would probably have no chance at becoming a good leader, because leadership is all about people. It’s all about connecting with people, not about writing emails and memos; it’s about [the] responsibility and accountability we have to people.”
Here Aceto emphasized that you do not have to be a born leader to become the head of a company, but rather connecting and bonding with your co-workers and clients will help the company grow.
Another question that was asked, directed at Aceto, was the question of whether a CEO or leader of a company should position him or herself as the face of the company or sit behind the scenes and go unnoticed by the public, distancing their personal selves from the brand.
“It depends an awful lot on the leader,” he replied. “If someone is going to be out there in front representing the organization on television or social media, it needs to be authentic. If you are a person who connects with people and are a person that truly believes in the value of the organization, then you should probably be out front. I think leadership in the decade ahead will demand leaders to take responsibility and accountability for everything that the corporation does.”
The advice Aceto gave also holds true for helping your business succeed when the times are tough, or if you are a Virgin to the business world. This is where the discussion shifted to Sir Richard Branson, where he was asked if being the face of his Virgin brand is a good or a bad thing for business.
“I think when you are building companies, you do not have a lot of financial resources and you are taking on bigger corporations, you really have to use yourself to get your company on the front page of the newspapers, not on the back pages,” he said. “Whether that means jumping off buildings—anything it takes to get the brand out there. Then it comes to a stage where you try to make sure that your company’s brand is in the headlines, not your own.”
Here Branson emphasized the need for associating your name with the brand in order to beat out your competition and be better recognized on the business stage. This is essential to expanding your company, especially when you are a struggling business owner who has fallen on hard times.
The concept was accented by a visual, provided by Branson, depicting an airship hovering over the Thames with the slogan “BA can’t get it up.” This tactic, used by Virgin while launching its flagship airline, helped its brand recognition while providing competition to the country’s leading airline company, British Airways.
The event with Sir Richard Branson and Peter Aceto provided an informative look at the way leadership in the business world is slowly changing to better address the needs of everyone throughout the company—not just the executive board and its shareholders.
Both Sir Richard Branson's and Peter Aceto's insights helped convince a crowd that hard times do not always have to mean end times, and with the right leadership and branding, your company could be a powerhouse.