How to Win in Business

3 leadership lessons from Richard Branson's heartfelt goodbye letter to Virgin America

Sir Richard Branson
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Sir Richard Branson

Under his umbrella company Virgin Group, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson has more than 60 businesses. But having scores of businesses does not make it any easier when one closes down, according to Branson.

In December, Alaska Airlines bought Virgin America, and this week, Alaska Airlines announced that it would close the Virgin America brand in 2019.

The 66-year-old entrepreneur has written and published an emotional farewell.

"Many years ago, I shed tears over selling my beloved Virgin Records for $1 billion," writes Branson. "Many tears are shed today, this time over Alaska Airlines' decision to buy and now retire Virgin America."

Branson's letter contains three lessons all business leaders can learn from.

Know when to fold 'em

If there comes a time when a business model isn't working, you have to be tough with yourself, despite the emotional attachment you have to your company.

"Sadly, [Alaska Airlines] could not find a way to maintain its own brand and that of Virgin America," Branson writes. But closing one brand can be necessary to keep the rest of the organization and its dozens of companies healthy.

Besides, he's moving forward. "As an entrepreneur's brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop," says Branson.

"As an entrepreneur's brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop." -Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

In particular, the billionaire says he is focused on projects including a hotel in San Francisco, a sports festival and a new cruise line. He is also still building a space tourism business.

Love the journey

Branson has celebrated many launches, milestones and triumphs along the way.

"We went through a lot together," says the entrepreneur. "The launch parties, the networking, the productivity on flights, the live concerts at 35,000 feet, the marriage proposals, the first in-flight wedding, the Oprah Skype to the plane!

"And who could forget that time in 2008 when I nearly ripped my arse jumping off the side of The Palms in Vegas?"

Even as he announces the closure of the brand, Branson honors the process of building a company and salutes his indispensable employees.

"This was the ride and love of a lifetime. I feel very lucky to have been on it with all of you."

Stay positive

"I'm told some people at Virgin America are calling today 'the day the music died.' It is a sad (and some would say baffling) day," says Branson. "But I'd like to assure them that the music never dies."

Branson encourages Virgin America employees to remain optimistic and future-focused.

"Build a business that puts its people first," he says. "Work with partners who share your same progressive and inclusive values. Focus on delivering a great customer experience, and success will come. Make business a force for good.

"Stay positive; attitude is everything."