What Lessons Can You Learn From Four Top Business Leaders?

There are plenty of successful and inspiring business people in the world, but a few stand head and shoulders above the rest. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg are four such individuals. If you want to see how wealthy these men are and just how fast they make money, take a look at this tool that allows you to compare a salary or amount of money with the annual earnings of these tycoons.

But whilst these men run multibillion dollar enterprises, there are lessons that even entrepreneurs running small businesses and start-ups can learn.

Warren Buffett – Stick With What You Know

Warren Buffett
photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unlike many other investors, when the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s, Warren Buffett didn’t suffer much. This wasn’t because Buffett was invested in tech stocks that kept performing, he wasn’t invested in many tech stocks at all. Why? Because he doesn’t feel that he has a good grasp of these types of businesses, so he doesn’t invest.

Buffett restricts himself to investing only in businesses he can understand. By working to this rule, Buffett ensures he can accurately assess likely performance of a potential investment in the long term and can spot any risks.

This is a good tip for any entrepreneur. Starting a business in any sector is difficult, means financial commitment and hard work but if you know the industry at least you can understand what customer expectations are likely to be, the cost of any equipment or services you need to buy in and how fast you can expect the business to scale and see returns.

Setting up in an industry you’re familiar with doesn’t mean not being innovative or not having a unique selling point (USP).

The perils of starting a new business in a sector you don’t understand are most starkly illustrated by the restaurant sector, where 17% of new restaurants in the US close every year. This is because the restaurant sector attracts a lot of people who have no background in that sector who quickly discover that running a restaurant isn’t as easy as they thought.

Bill Gates – Focus

Bill Gates
photo credit: World Economic Forum / Flickr

Bill Gates’ early biography is all about computers. From the age of 13 when Gates first encountered a Teletype Model 33 to his famous pancake sorting algorithm at Harvard, Gates constantly used computers.

When Gates came to cofound Microsoft, his expertise was such that as well as being involved in running the business, he was also expert enough to personally write much of the code for the company’s first products and indeed Gates claims to have personally reviewed every line of code that Microsoft put out in these first 5 years.

This is a remarkable achievement and could only be reached by Gates’ extraordinary focus. Much has been written on the power of focus and how it can help individuals achieve their personal and business aims. Whether you believe in the famous 10,000 hour rule or not, there can be no doubt that through constantly using computers from a young age and practicing his skills, Gates nurtured a rare talent.

Focus is key for any business. The power of planning can’t be overstated and going into each day with a clear idea of what you want to get achieved will ensure that by the end of the day you will have reached your aims. Things like emails or unplanned meetings can distract you from this focus and mean that important work keeps getting put to the bottom of the pile.

Richard Branson – The Power of Personal Branding

Sir Richard Branson
photo credit: Dtiet / Flickr

Like him or loathe him, everyone has heard of Richard Branson. His Virgin group controls or has interests in more than 400 companies worldwide.

Much of Branson’s success hinges on the brand that Branson has created around himself. Interestingly though, Branson himself says that when he founded Virgin in the early 70s, he knew very little about branding, and simply built the company around personal values that were important to him.

This should be music to the ears of entrepreneurs and those starting a business for the first time. It means that instead of spending lots of time, money and thought on branding they should simply build a company that reflects them and something of who they really are.

As the man himself says “Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust,”

Mark Zuckerberg – Hanging in There

Mark Zuckerberg
photo credit: Portal GDA / Flickr

By any standards it’s not been a great twelve months for Facebook. The company has been accused of spreading fake news in the last US election and this week has been answering questions from the UK Government about the use of Facebook data in the Brexit referendum.

Whilst the recent controversies are serious, since his days at Harvard Zuckerberg hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble for too long.

Whilst at Harvard, Zuckerberg built a program called Facemash. The site presented users with pictures of two people and asked users to choose which of the two was hotter. This allowed the website to rank the people in the photos by attractiveness. The site was shut down within three days when students complained that their photos were being used without permission by Facemash. The website was also branded completely improper by fellow students and Zuckerberg was forced into a public apology.

After the Facemash controversy, it didn’t take Zuckerberg long to build Facebook in a form which is very similar to the way the website looks and operates today. However, on launching Facebook Zuckerberg was sued by three students who accused him of stealing their idea for a college social network. Zuckerberg settled the suit by giving them shares in Facebook, now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Whatever you think of Mark Zuckerberg, his persistence in continuing to build his business should be inspiring for other entrepreneurs. Zuckerberg is someone who has failed plenty of times, but he’s always picked himself up and carried on. This has enabled him to build one of the most profitable and widely recognised businesses in the world.

Never Stop Learning

So there it is, the lessons that can be learnt from four of the world’s top entrepreneurs that can be applied to any business, big or small, young or old.

If there’s one lesson that all four of these business leaders embody it’s that if you want to be successful in the world of business, you should never stop learning. All four of these entrepreneurs have continued to develop and grow, either by trying new products, finding new markets to invest in or learning from failure and in the end, this has yielded success and made them some of the richest people in the world.