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Richard Branson: When All News Is Good News

8 Giugno 2011 Commenti chiusi

The celebrated entrepreneur on staying in touch and keeping it real when you’re the boss.

After an entrepreneur has expanded his successful new company or a chief executive has been promoted to the corner office, he may find himself starting to lose touch with employees and customers.

Richard+Branson+Event+focus+sardi+innovationThis happens for a variety of reasons. Most executives, for example, will tend to minimize bad news in front of the CEO and emphasize only positive developments in the company. But this forces the CEO to read between the lines, and may leave employees unable to get action on an issue — all because of the fear that admitting a problem might embarrass a manager or supervisor. Instead, they learn not to ask, but work around the problem while, understandably, griping about management.

So if you find yourself losing touch, take time to find out what the staff is actually doing on a day-to-day basis. Spend at least a few hours observing operations, and if you are qualified, borrow a desk, grab a phone and lend a hand.

As you observe and work, ask yourself: What are the employees’ working conditions? Do people seem energetic and creative? And ask employees: Do you have the resources you need to do your job well? If you could, what problems would you fix? What ideas of yours has your manager followed up on?

Throughout most organizations, all supervisors need to periodically dig in and get their hands dirty. At the executive level, accessibility is key. You must ensure your staff is consistently encouraged to contact you with ideas and problems. The larger the business, the more important this is.

If you are losing touch with employees, it’s also likely that you need to work on maintaining your connection to customers. Most executives and managers tackle this second challenge partly through surveys and other tools that evaluate the customer experience, while some — myself included! — have embraced social media, keeping clients updated through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other channels.

This column, which I have been writing for just over a year, is a new channel for me. To my surprise, I have found that not only has my advice and experience been reaching aspiring entrepreneurs, but also that I, in turn, have been getting a different perspective on our operations around the world. The hundreds of e-mails I receive every week bring up a lot of questions, some new ideas and a few telling customer comments — some good, some bad.

One example, sent to me over the recent holidays, highlighted how valuable it is to get direct feedback from customers. On Dec. 18, a Virgin Atlantic flight from Kenya to London was diverted because of the heavy snow at Heathrow. The flight was forced to land in France where, thanks to strict European immigration laws, many of our Kenyan passengers were barred from leaving the airport and had to sleep on camp beds.

The uncomfortable conditions and the unfriendly welcome distressed many of our passengers. I received a number of angry e-mails from readers of this column in Kenya who were either passengers on that flight or who had heard about the ordeal. I wrote an apology that was published in The Nation in Kenya, promising we would take up the matter with the French authorities and ensure it did not happen again. The positive e-mails that followed let me know that what had threatened to become an ugly incident had been addressed by my direct intervention.

The incident underlined for me the idea that however and wherever you can, find ways to keep in touch with your employees and customers. Embrace every opportunity — you never know what you will learn!

Just remember you are not always going to hear pleasant news. But as I have mentioned before, the best managers try to catch people doing something right: Re-energize employees by showing them that change is possible and action is valued. At Virgin Active in South Africa, our health-club company, we’ve seen the value of quick follow-up via our WOW awards, which publish employees’ new ideas on the company intranet and in staff newsletters. The best ideas are celebrated at our awards ceremonies. When Virgin Active employees expressed a desire to gain experience at other branches, we set up a staff exchange program. Seven employees are now working in our European operations; and a related project has resulted in our developing an enhanced pack of information for new employees that has helped to engender greater loyalty right from the start.

True Stories Behind Car Company Logos

4 Ottobre 2010 Commenti chiusi


Did a wallpaper pattern in a Paris hotel room inspire the famous Chevrolet Bowtie emblem? Does the blue and white BMW roundel really symbolize a propeller and sky? And was the Porsche logo first sketched on a napkin in a New York City restaurant? In the world of automobile logos, truth can be stranger than fiction—though a good story can go a long way toward embellishing a brand’s corporate identity.

From Ferrari’s Prancing Horse to Cadillac’s crest, automobile logos appear on everything from steering wheel hubs to giant billboards, and even the lapel pins on the suits of company executives. This kind of flexibility is one of the design elements needed for an effective and strong logo, says Jack Gernsheimer, Creative Director of Partners Design Inc. and author of Designing Logos: The Process of Creating Symbols that Endure.

With over 40 years of advertising experience and more than 500 logos to his credit, Mr. Gernsheimer believes it’s essential to look long-term and to keep things simple when designing a logo. “Not getting too trendy with the type or color” is vital, he says. “When you design a logo, ideally it should endure for decades.” For many automakers, the roots of their logos stretch back over a century and contain enough symbolism and intrigue to fill a Dan Brown novel.

Automotive Pioneers

Tragedy plays a role in a popular myth surrounding the famous intertwined double-R logo of British luxury automaker Rolls-Royce. Rolls Royce LogoThe company’s founders, Sir Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls, originally used red lettering for the emblem that combined the first initial of their last names. Legend has it the color was changed, from red to black, in a mark of respect after the death of Sir Henry Royce in 1933. In reality, black lettering was simply considered more becoming of a prestigious luxury car. The timing of the color change was pure chance.

Rolls Royce’s second iconic emblem, the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, is linked to a similarly tragic (but in this case, entirely true) tale. Designed by Charles Sykes in 1911, the model for the emblem was Miss Eleanor Thornton, the personal secretary of John Scott Montagu, the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu and friend of company co-founder Charles Stewart Rolls. In 1915, Miss Thornton died at sea while traveling to India. Yet for almost 100 years her likeness has graced every Spirit of Ecstasy.

The origins of some automotive logos begin even before the dawn of the automobile. TheMercedes-Benz three-pointed star is commonly known to symbolize the use of the company’s engines on land, sea and air. But the star first appeared on a personal note written in 1872 from company founder, Gottlieb Daimler, to his wife. Mr. Daimler used a three-pointed star to mark the location of his family’s new home in the town of Deutz, Germany. His sons adapted the emblem as the Mercedes-Benz logo from 1910 onward.

Ferrari Logo

One of the best known emblems of all time, Ferrari’s Prancing Horse first appeared on warplanes flown by Francesco Baracca, an aviator and hero of World War I. In 1923, Enzo Ferrari met Francesco’s parents after a race, where they suggested Ferrari use their son’s prancing horse badge on his race cars—both for good luck, and as an homage to Francesco, who died before the war ended. A yellow background was added (it’s the official color of Enzo Ferrari’s hometown of Modena, Italy) and the horse’s tail was redesigned to point upward.

BMW Logo

In the case of BMW, myth (and savvy marketing) has fooled generations into linking the company’s logo with an aviation theme. “A German advertising agency in the 1920s produced an ad that showed the [BMW] roundel against the spinning propeller of an airplane to reflect the company’s origins as an aircraft engine manufacturer,” says Dave Buchko, company spokesman for BMW North America. “That, it seems now, turns out to be urban myth.” While it’s true that BMW manufactured airplane engines, the blue and white logo represented the colors of the Bavarian flag, not a stylized propeller and sky.

American Ingenuity

Chevrolet Logo

Had it not been for a talkative spouse, the Chevy Bowtie emblem could have claimed one the strangest design origins. Louis Chevrolet said the famous emblem was inspired by a wallpaper pattern in his hotel room during a visit to Paris in 1908. The story would have been considered fact, had it not been for Mr. Chevrolet’s wife. She later said her husband had seen an advertisement featuring a similarly shaped logo in a Sunday supplement. Eye-catching design—and careful evolution—is a theme found in many American car company logos.

The Cadillac crest is the coat of arms of French military commander and explorer, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded Detroit in 1701. Simplified and streamlined over the years, the basic style remains intact. “It’s so distinctive, you don’t want to give that away,” says Anne Marie Webb, Design Manager for GM’s Global Brand Identity. When updating one of GM’s brand logos, Webb says she always considers elements “that made it recognizable and strong.” Even then, cultural differences must be considered. The Buick Tri-Shield emblem is monochromatic in every country except China, where the logo maintains red, blue and grey coloring. “They felt [color] had a more premium feel,” explains Webb.

Changing times can also bring big changes in a logo. For more than 80 years, Chrysler has used a wide range of badges featuring ribbon seals, or ribbon seals with wings. But in 1962, Chrysler Chairman Lynn Townsend wanted a more modern and less fussy corporate logo. According to Chrysler’s archives, out of approximately 700 designs, Townsend selected the Pentastar. Many assumed the design symbolized the five divisions of the company (circa the early 1960s). It didn’t; the design simply looked good.

Lawyers, Latin and Luck

Audi Logo

Some car company logos owe their existence to legalities and economies of scale. In 1909, having left the company bearing his name, August Horch established a second automobile company in Zwickau, Germany. But with his name already in use, Horch had a serious problem. He couldn’t legally name his new company after himself. However, when translated into Latin, “Horch”—which means “hark”—became the lawyer-friendly “Audi.” The four interlinked Audi rings came about in 1932, when four struggling automakers joined together under the corporate banner of Auto Union. These companies included Audi, DKW, Wanderer and, ironically, the original Horch.

Volvo also has Latin roots. Meaning “I roll,” the name was taken from a brand of ball bearings before it was applied to the Swedish automaker in 1924. The Volvo logo is the Roman symbol for iron—symbolizing a warrior’s shield and spear. The diagonal streak across the grille was originally only a mounting point for the badge, but is now “almost as much a brand ID as our iron symbol,” says Daniel Johnston, Product Communications Manager at Volvo Cars North America.

Good luck—and an easier to pronounce name—played a role in the creation of the Toyotanameplate in 1936. In the book Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years, company founder Kiichiro Toyoda “ran a contest for suggestions for a new Toyoda logo. There were over 20,000 entries. The winning entry consisted of katakana characters in a design that imparted a sense of speed… “Toyoda” became “Toyota” because as a design it was esthetically superior and because the number of strokes needed to write it was eight, which in Japan is a felicitous number, suggestive of increasing prosperity.”

Statues, Stars, and Smart Cars

Maserati Logo

Inspiration for a name and logo can come from careful consumer research, legal loopholes or, in some cases, by looking at the surrounding environment. TheMaserati brothers took inspiration for their company’s trident logo from the statue of Neptune in the central square of Bologna, Italy, where Maserati was originally headquartered. The trident with Maserati script below was sketched by Mario, an artist, who also happened to be the only Maserati brother never actively involved in the design or engineering of cars.

Inspiration for the Subaru name literally came from the heavens—or more precisely, the Japanese name of a star cluster in the Taurus constellation. Six of the stars are visible to the naked eye and—in keeping with corporate identity—this matches the six companies which combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company. The Hyundai name has an even simpler explanation. In Korean it means “modern,” while the company’s logo is a stylized “H” that also represents two people, the company and customer, shaking hands.

The Smart name seems to speak for itself, no translation needed. It actually happens to be an acronym of Swatch (the Swiss watch company that was a partner during the early stages of the company), Mercedes (the brand’s current custodian), and “Art.” The company’s logo signifies compact, with a “C,” and forward thinking with an arrow emblem.

Plot Twists

Porsche Logo

When it comes to the origin of an iconic logo, the same car company can sometimes have two variations of the same story. That holds true with Porsche, and the truth behind the German sports car manufacturer’s eye-catching emblem. According to a spokesperson with Porsche Cars North America, an extremely influential automobile distributor, Max Hoffman, met with Ferry Porsche in a New York City restaurant in 1951. The discussion moved on to Hoffman’s belief that Porsche needed a powerful logo, something distinctive and elegant. A rough sketch was made then and there, on a dinner napkin.

Yet the story from Porsche Germany differs from this colorful explanation. Max Hoffman did ask Ferry Porsche for a logo, but the emblem was designed by Porsche engineer Franz Xaver Reimspiess—and most definitely not sketched on a napkin somewhere in Manhattan. Does it matter who is right or wrong? Probably not.

A tall tale never hurts, especially when it involves two companies known for building some of the most exotic cars in the world. Car enthusiasts love to stoke the rivalry between Lamborghini and Ferrari, even down to the minutiae of the Lamborghini logo. The design of the gold and black emblem was led by company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, and the bull located in the center stands for his astrological sign (Taurus). Legend has it that Mr. Lamborghini purposefully copied the Ferrari shield, then reversed that company’s yellow and black color scheme to prod the ego of Enzo Ferrari.

With the key protagonists having passed away, there is probably no way to know for certain how much of this is true. “To our knowledge, this is just a rumor,” said a spokesperson for Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. “The only way to confirm would have been to ask Mr. Lamborghini himself.”

Nick Kurczewski

Italiasquisita – Al Roof Garden Restaurant di Bergamo la Stella Michelin

23 Novembre 2009 Commenti chiusi


Ha gli occhi visibilmente lucidi Fabrizio Ferrari, classe 1965, Executive Chef del Roof Garden Restaurant e da oggi uno dei nuovi “stellati” della Guida Michelin.
Un traguardo che allo splendido ristorante di Piazza Repubblica, nel centro di Bergamo e con vista mozzafiato su Città Alta, era stato annunciato l’anno scorso, quando sin dalla prima segnalazione sulla Rossa il Roof Garden si era subito aggiudicato la promessa della stella.
Un traguardo che oggi è stato accolto con grande, grandissima gioia ed entusiasmo da Ferrari e da tutta la brigata.

Fabrizio in questo momento importante vuole soprattutto ringraziare la sua brigata di giovani cuochi ed aiutanti, a coloro che hanno “navigato” con lui: – “La barca che abbiamo pilotato lungo tutto questo anno, ha cambiato molti nomi… Si e’ chiamata passione, perseveranza, talvolta anche delusione.  E’ a questo splendido equipaggio che rivolgo la mia riconoscenza, l’immensa fiducia e tutto il mio rispetto. Non li cambierei per nulla, nemmeno per un intero firmamento. Ma un immenso grazie devo rivolgerlo anche alla proprietà del Roof Garden che mi hanno accordato piena fiducia e totale autonomia”.

Fabrizio Ferrari

Fabrizio Ferrari, classe 1965, arriva al Roof Garden nel 2007, a un anno appena dalla sua inaugurazione. Terminati gli studi tecnico-alberghieri, Ferrari debutta come chef partie alla Zelata di Bereguardo, raggiungendo poi a Parigi Angelo Paracucchi, chef del Ristorante Carpaccio dell’Hotel Royal Monceau. Rientrato in Italia, lavora per il Wall Street e l’Antica Trattoria Goi di Pavia.
Dal 1994 al 2001 è chef executive del gruppo Maestro di Casa: sono gli anni delle collaborazioni con Antonello Colonna, Gianfranco Vissani e Pierre Gagnaire.
Amante della cucina tecnologica – è stato allievo di George Pralus, maestro del sottovuoto – Fabrizio Ferrari ha creato una linea di piatti ispirata alla “cucina metropolitana”, l’arte culinaria che raccoglie le esperienze di tutte le identità cittadine, abbattendo ogni frontiera, da quelle nazionali a quelle concettuali. Se nel 2008 Ferrari ha ricevuto la sua prima segnalazione dalla Guida Rossa, oggi è il giorno in cui ha ottenuto la prima Stella Michelin.