Just in time for the New Year, when resolution making is upon us and ambitions are high, we take four key characteristics of success and compare two iconic figures who have both displayed these characteristics in their own way. We highlight Sir Richard Branson, one of the most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs today, and Jay-Z, one of the most financially successful hip-hop artists and entrepreneurs in America. In 2012, Forbes estimated Jay-Z’s net worth at nearly $500 million. Branson’s net worth was $4.2 billion as of March 2012. Although from different backgrounds, skill sets and countries, both are clearly doing something exceptional.
Both mega moguls are self-made; Richard Branson was a high school dropout and Jay-Z spent his early years in a Brooklyn public housing complex. Now Branson is of course best known as the Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group, consisting of more than 400 companies. Jay-Z (or Shawn Corey Carter) holds the record for most number one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200 with twelve and adds record producer, entrepreneur, sometimes actor and creative director to his list of credits. What do both men have in common? A strong entrepreneurial spirit, steady and natural brand evolution, chameleon-like adaptability and a creative mind.
Most entrepreneurs will tell you that they exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, embarking on different ways to earn a dollar from early on. This was the case for both Richard Branson and Jay-Z.
Branson: Branson’s first business venture was a magazine called ‘Student’ when he was just 16 years old. He founded Virgin in 1970 at the age of 20, and has plowed forward in full speed ever since.
Jay-Z: Frustrated, with no major label offering him a record deal, Jay-Z took matters into his own hands and sold his CDs out of his car. He then created Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs as their own independent label in 1995 at 26 years old. In 1996, he released his debut album Reasonable Doubt. From that point on, the record would establish him as a major figure on the hip-hop scene and branch out into other entrepreneurial projects.
Steady Natural Brand Evolution
Both Richard Branson and Jay-Z have enjoyed a steady evolution from humble beginnings to their current success. Neither stays stagnant at one place, venturing and expanding into all realms in a steady evolution of their brand and a natural progression of an all-encompassing empire.
Branson: In 1970, Branson set up an audio-record mail-order business. Two years later, in 1972 (at 22 years old), he opened a chain of record stores, Virgin Records (later known as Virgin Megastores). In the 1980s, he set up Virgin Atlantic Airways and expanded the Virgin Records music label. Now, Virgin reaches all sectors, ranging from mobile communications, travel, financial services, leisure, holidays, health and wellness. Virgin’s strong brand values and culture unite the smaller entrepreneurial companies together while leveraging them in their respective markets. Across its companies, Virgin employs some 50,000 people.
Jay-Z: From music, Jay-Z’s business empire has grown to include clothing, fragrances, the Brooklyn Nets, sports bars, liquor, video games and hotels. In addition, he is the former CEO of Def Jam Recordings, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, and the founder of Roc Nation. Leaving no stone unturned, Jay-Z also invested in a real estate development venture called J Hotels, which recently acquired a $66 million mid-block parcel in Chelsea, New York. As he famously rapped, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” on Kanye West’s 2005 Diamonds From Sierra Leone, Jay-Z shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
You could call both Branson and Jay-Z Jacks of all Trades. In addition to the diversity of companies they have created, they also wear a number of hats as individuals, from authors and publishers to marketers and actors.
Branson: No stranger to the spotlight, Branson has guest starred on numerous television shows, including Friends, Baywatch, Birds of a Feather, Only Fools and Horses, The Day Today, a special episode of the comedy Goodness Gracious Me and Tripping Over – and has had a cameo in the James Bond film Casino Royale. He has also written numerous books. Popular favourites include autobiography ‘Business Stripped Bare’, ‘Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way’ or this fall’s ‘Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School’.
Jay-Z: Also venturing into the written realm, in November 2010 Jay-Z published a memoir entitled Decoded. He is also the executive producer of the basketball video game NBA 2K13, where he collaborated on the look and feel of the game in addition to its soundtrack. Apparently Jay-Z also dabbles in graphic design and reportedly had a major influence in the new identity for the basketball team he co-owns, the Brooklyn Nets. Clearly, he is more than just his music.
To be exceptional means to stand out and do something unique and defining. It requires creativity, which means to think outside of the box and the typical.
Branson: Branson is known for going beyond the expected in everything from business to travel endeavours and shameless publicity stunts. Case in point: When Kate Winslet recently married his nephew, Branson’s gift to the newlyweds was a flight to space (no big deal). Perhaps more than anyone, Branson is known for his farfetched publicity stunts. This has meant everything from attempting so set world records in hot air balloons, setting up a photo opp while kite surfing with a young, naked model on his back and jumping off the Palms Hotel Casino to celebrate Virgin American Flight- just to name a few. Branson has said that he loves “creating things” and has compared an entrepreneur to an artist.
Jay-Z: Jay-Z is known to take a lot of creative control in his various businesses and has been the creative brain behind marketing campaigns and resonating rap lyrics alike. He serves as co-brand director for Budweiser Select, where he works with the company on strategic marketing programs and creative ad development, offering guidance and advice on brand programs and ads that appear on TV, radio, print, and high-profile events.
If you think about it, many of these traits exhibited by both Jay-Z and Branson are seen in the young professionals across the country who are making waves in their respective careers.