The culture of the Virgin group (and Virgin Blue) is a worldwide phenomenon. The brand itself has a very strong culture and people instinctively associate it with quality, value for money, challenging the establishment and a fun work environment. The culture of Virgin Blue (VB) can be traced almost entirely to Richard Branson’s own personal values and managerial style. This in turn has cascaded to the types of people with whom Branson associates. The VB culture is based on the way the group is branded, i.e., to be affiliated with the notion of ‘fun’, ‘vibrancy’, ‘youth’ and ‘excitement’. This transcends into some areas of the business sector. Sales, marketing and cabin crew staff are hired for their creativeness and personal flair and are taught to portray a sense of fun and enjoyment whilst also having safety and customer service as their focus. Accounting, finance and other upper management tend to practice a culture more about working long hours to ensure the growth of the company. The Virgin group is structured as if there are 150 small companies and so while VB does technically fall under the group’s blanket it stands alone in many ways. Employees have a stake in their businesses success feeling that they are crucial to their company because they are one-in-fifty or one-in-a-hundred as opposed to one-in-tens-of-thousands.
Brett Godfrey, former CEO of VB, had a management style that was reflected in his entrepreneurial spin as well as his sense of fun and disrespect for hierarchy and formal authority. He had adopted a flat structure (less emphasis on middle management) and had placed a high importance on recruiting for cultural fit. When setting up the Australian arm of the business Godfrey took a number of steps to assist in seeding its unique ‘Branson’ culture throughout VB. Culture starts at the top, and the leadership style of the boss is what filters down. Anita Roddick founded the Body Shop to show that one could build an environmentally friendly corporation that reflected her commitment to environmental activism. Jim Goodnight’s commitment to work-life-balance is part of the culture at SAS, the largest privately held company in the world, Jack Welch’s commitment to being the best created an environment of excellence at General Electric. In each of the mentioned cases, the ethics of its leaders became a central part of the culture. Godfrey’s passion for the airline industry coupled with his ‘work hard’, ‘stay focused’ whilst still maintaining a sense of fun transcends through his approach to management. With a fairly flat structure in place and a culture that is very open and informal, Godfrey was able to maintain this balance. However, due to the GFC with cutbacks and redundancies, the Virgin flare has dwindled.