Mentor 25 - Holly Branson

MBOMBELA - The Bring Change Lowveld mentorship programme recently came to its conclusion when winner 

Ms Phephsile Maseko received her greatest reward: a meeting with the Virgin Group.
The programme, which was launched in the city last year, offered the worthy winner the opportunity to be mentored by 25 of the Lowveld's best business minds. These lessons were shared weekly with Lowvelder readers.

Maseko's hard work during the programme also earned her the opportunity to meet and be mentored by managers in the internationally reputed Virgin Group. She paid a visit to their headquarters in London at the beginning of the month with Bring Change Lowveld founders Mr Etienne and Ms Erichia Pretorius. Maseko was not only treated to a tour of the offices, but also sat down with Ms Holly Branson and Mr Noah Devereux.

Branson is the daughter of Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson. She is on the group's management team and chairman of Virgin Unite, the company's non-profit foundation. She is also a trustee of the Big Change Charitable Trust, a charity she set up with her brother Sam, Isabella, Princess Beatrice of York and friends. It aims to drive change for young people in the UK in order to help them to thrive in life by supporting projects to equip them with relevant tools.
Devereux is Sir Richard's nephew and the director of Virgin Strive. It aims to teach young people the life skills they need. Donors tackle gruelling adventures to raise funds for the benefit of key projects aimed at helping young people reach their potential.

Maseko was honoured to be afforded the opportunity to tap into their knowledge and experience as she develops her skincare product manufacturing company, Phephisa Natural Resources. This week Holly and Devereux shared the 10 things needed to build a brand and leave a legacy with Lowvelder readers. 

1 Find a niche market
"Virgin has gone into a lot of businesses in its lifetime. Many of these have failed. My dad went through a phase where he was going into anything and everything," said Holly. "What we realised at the end was never to go into a business where there is not a niche where you are needed." 

2 Be socially responsible
Many of the Branson enterprises were built on the basis that they were socially responsible without even knowing it. "Without even realising it, a lot of the companies were socially responsible - before it was fasionable," Holly said. Her father's first project was a student magazine which gave a voice to students outraged about the Vietnam War. This developed into a platform providing young people with help, and business flowed from there. 

3 Treat people well
Holly explained that her father went into the music industry because existing record companies were treating artists poorly. "My dad wanted to change it and started the Virgin label to treat artists brilliantly and give them better contracts. Being nice to people will help you to make money in the long run." 

4 Put people before money
By focusing on the purpose of your company, and treating employees as well as partners and clients with respect, you grow your business, as people want to work for you and with you. Make sure the people around you know what their purpose is and allow them to have a social impact.

5 Stick to your purpose
You need to have a sense of purpose at the core of your business, Devereux said. "You need reasons beyond making money for the company to exist," he said. "Having a broader purpose has proven to yield incredible results. Your staff is more engaged, more energised and keener to make the company a success."

6 Focus on your impact on society
Devereux advised that it is short-sighted to focus on money. "First focus on the social impact your product or service can have. It may be an unusual place to start from, for a start-up company, but don't ignore that part of the business. It ensures you have an engaged and positive workforce, and it gives you a good story to tell. Money will flow from that."

7 Nurture talent
Devereux said his uncle considered his greatest skill his ability to delegate. "So that is very important. He also has the ability to spot, incubate and nurture talent. He shows trust and faith in the people around him to deliver on their promise." More often than not, they do.

8 Be your own brand
When you have a low budget for marketing, use yourself as a tool to get your product out there. Holly recommended large public relations events. "In the beginning my dad didn't have money for marketing, so he started using himself by making himself the frontman. Making himself the marketing tool while hosting big splashy events paid off." 
Devereux said he was a trialblazer, "doing crazy things nobody has ever done before. There are a lot of things to be learned from the way he created the brand around him".

9 Find alternative funding sources

Devereux advised Maseko to look into alternative sources of funding. He said some of his entrepreneurial friends have had great success in obtaining capital from crowd funding. The trend has seen massive success in Europe and the USA, helping entrepreneurs start up and assisting existing companies to fund new products. "It is a new way of raising capital. You don't have to give away any equity in your company, and it ensures a healthy cash flow," he said.

10 Down with quotas
Women need to be given chances and training opportunities. More female entrepreneurs and leaders are needed, but they need to attain leadership positions on merit. With the correct training and access to gain experience existing companies are able to provide, uplifting and empowering women could become part of the solution.

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