Building a purpose-driven team


  • Columns
  • Monday, 10 Aug 2015

Bring in people who share your drive and desire to make a difference.

When you’re hiring, it’s important to look past impressive resumes and academic results. You want people who share your passion and want to make a difference.

Q: I own a small business in the healthcare and nutrition industry. I know that in order to grow, I need to hire more people. In particular, I want to hire a projects manager and someone to be in charge of social media efforts.

The problem is that I can’t afford to bring in those sorts of managers right now. But, of course, without more help I can’t grow. How can I hire people to help me even when my business is not making a lot of money?

– Ayelet Rosenfeld

It’s true that growing a business on a small budget can be difficult, especially if you need to hire people to help you expand and achieve your objectives. But the size of your budget shouldn’t prevent you from giving it your best go.

At Virgin, we’ve usually come into many of the industries where we operate as an underdog. This is because we enter various sectors as a challenger brand: We’re not only looking to disrupt markets, we’re also aiming to change business for good.

Our status as a challenger has often meant that we haven’t had the budgets and resources of bigger, more established businesses – but we don’t let this challenge stop us. At Virgin, we firmly believe that the right people, not giant budgets, can drive the success of a business.

So my advice for you, Ayelet – and for others in your situation who want to grow a team on a limited budget – is to stop looking to hire people just because they have extraordinary resumes or impressive academic records, and look for people who share your passion.

Aim to bring in people who share your drive and desire to make a difference, and you should be able to attract talent on a budget.

The first step to attract the right people is to refine your purpose.

Ask yourself: What is your product or service trying to achieve? Why are you doing what you are doing? How can your product or service help to create a better world?

If you can express your purpose in an understandable, engaging way, people will be more likely to react to it and identify with it. Also, keep in mind that these days it’s becoming more and more common for people to value purpose over monetary reward alone in the workplace.

At Virgin, we recently launched Virgin Sport, and we approached Mary Wittenberg to fill the role of chief executive. Before she joined us, Mary was working for the long-established New York Road Runners, an organisation responsible for more than 50 events, including the world-famous New York Marathon.

With the launch of Virgin Sport, we hope to revolutionise events that draw large numbers of participants, expand their reach and make a difference in people’s lives.

So we approached Mary, hoping that our story, purpose and goals for Virgin Sport would attract her to join our company – a new and, therefore, much less-established and more challenging enterprise than New York Road Runners.

To our delight, Mary jumped at the opportunity.

She believed in our desire to challenge the established worldview on health and fitness, and together we are now hoping to hit the ground running in order to help people of all shapes and sizes push the boundaries of what’s expected of them, and help them strive for greatness.

But this wasn’t the first time that Mary had followed her heart. Prior to joining New York Road Runners, she was a partner at a successful law firm. But, just as she did with Virgin Sport, Mary joined New York Road Runners because she saw an opportunity to make a difference.

Fortunately, Mary’s story is not uncommon. Many people at the Virgin Group have made career changes or have joined us from more established companies.


The good news for you, Ayelet, and also for us at Virgin, is that more and more people are seeking jobs that provide a purpose, not just a big paycheck. Get your purpose right, and you will attract the talent your company needs to grow and succeed.

So start by offering an internship programme that provides relevant work experience, or partner with friends and family. This should help you staff your startup for now without breaking the budget. And when you do bring people on, remember to delegate – and delegate effectively.

Smart delegation is one of the most important things any leader can learn to do right from the very beginning.

And always keep in mind that it’s OK not to know how to do everything, and that you should bring people on board whose strengths play to your weaknesses.

There’s no shame in admitting that you fall short in some areas. Engaging with people who can help will drive you closer to achieving your goals. – Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, e-mail address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.


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