Management Robert Owen and Richard Branson

Category: Motivation
Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023
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Intoduction It is said that management principles can be traced back as far as 5000 years, which has provided considerable amount of time to refine and develop these principles into efficient and successful ideologies. Throughout history, management practise has evolved thanks to a number of pioneers who have veered away from the norm to revolutionise views on what it means to be a good and efficacious manager. Both Robert Owen and Richard Branson can be seen as frontrunners of their time, performing feats in the realm of management that nobody before them would have dared to have even considered.

Robert_Owen? Robert Owen was born in Newtown in Wales, United Kingdom. During his life he managed to improve well-being, education and rights of the working class. His driving ambition to create a better society made him a successful manufacturer and an important pioneer of Modern Management. ?"The most important experiment for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world"1 [Owen, 1801] started when Robert Owen bought the New Lanark Mills in 1801.

Under his management the New Lanark became a model community which was driving towards prosperity and making progress through the new technology. He was considered a kind man, who treated his employees very well. Owen highlighted the importance of education; he believed that knowledge is a useful skill that could release working class children from hunger and poverty. Thus New Lanark was the first place in the world that had an Infant School. This allowed parents to keep on working and created the opportunity for wider education provision, including evening classes for workers.

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He also introduced better working conditions for children; children under ten were not allowed to work in the village and no children were allowed to work for longer than 10 hours a day. Moreover he raised the minimum wage for child labour, raised wages for adults, reduced working hours and provided all the employees with free medical care. Robert Owen always kept proper business records; these included daily and weekly measurement of productivity, output and stocks. A novel technique was used to control the employees; multicolored pieces of wood hung beside every worker.

Each color indicated the previous day's quality of work. Everyone around was able to see this measure of employees performance, this piece of wood works as a good motivator towards quality performance, as people did not want to be embarrassed by everyone being able to see that they had worked to a poor standard. ?Even though Robert Owen had no formal university education his progressive moral views and entrepreneurial skills made his contribution to the modern management theory inestimable. ?? What ideas individuals may attach to the term "Millennium" I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal. ”2[Owen, 1816] Sir Richard Branson Sir Richard Branson was born in Blackheath, London in 1950.

He studied at Stowe school and throughout his childhood struggled with dyslexia, and failed to do well at school, but by the age of 16, after dropping out of school, and a few failed attempts at selling Christmas trees and budgerigars, he had already taken his first steps to becoming a successful pioneer when he launched a magazine called ‘Student’ 3[Ahmed, 2011], which ran articles about prominent politicians, famous rock stars and different celebrities of the time.

This turned out to just be the start of a successful entrepreneurial career, and he has now founded ‘Virgin Group Ltd. ’ which consists of more than 400 companies, ranging from airlines to mobile phone networks, employing over 50,000 people. Having started as a teenager, struggling to find his way into the business world, he is now worth about three billion pounds sterling, and is one of the most outstanding innovators in the world. Despite being renowned for promoting an extremely tranquil working environment, Richard Branson is a follower of F.

W. Taylor, who proposed the ‘Scientific Management Theory’, which attempts to increase economic efficiency and productivity in the workplace by applying a scientific element to management, and Sir Richard Branson is known to apply some of Taylors ‘Scientific Management’ theories to his own style. Taylor was also known to reward staff with higher payment based on results, as an attempt to boost motivation, which Branson has also exercised by paying and rewarding employees based on performance and their ability to show signs of creative thinking. [Anon] Sir Richard Branson implements a style of a Theory Y manger in Douglas McGregor’s theory5 [McGregor, 1960] which states that there are two types of manager: Theory X styled manager- Believes that the average employee dislikes works and only works because they have to earn money, therefore they need to be threatened with punishments in order to be motivated, and directed strictly, without any room for delegated responsibility.

A Theory X styled manager believes that money is most important to the employee. Theory Y styled manager (Sir Richard Branson)- Believes that employees are more motivated when they have more self-control and can apply their own skills and creativity in the workplace. States that most employees want to do well and self-actualisation what motivates them, as oppose to financial gain. [Taylor, 2013] Richard Branson believes that by creating a relaxed working environment, and by trusting his managers and employees with responsibility, that his staff will consequently be enjoy their work, work better as a team, and therefore be more motivated as they will be achieving the Self-Actualisation level and Social level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and therefore enhance the performance of the workforce, and resultantly the performance of Virgin.

In the advancement of his management thinking, Virgin Group Ltd created a centralised website which endeavoured to link up all of the Virgin Group companies, and created a central hub, as previously they worked separately, so he therefore attempting to promote teamwork and build human relationships within the firm, allowing employees to communicate and information to be pooled and collected. Comparison and Contrast between Owen and Branson Despite being from entirely different eras, Owen and Branson exude many similar qualities; most notably in that they both believe that the key to success lies in the treatment of their employees. Having a personality of caring about people is important. You can’t be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them. ”7[Branson, 2011] It is clear that both men care greatly for their employees; Branson gives all employees his personal phone number, so that should they have any problems they can contract him directly, rather than having to go through Human Resources. Many managers would not identify with this and would rather their employees suffer in silence. Branson also claims to attempt to respond to as any emails as he can every day, “Recalling a time when [he] was just starting out and needed advice, [he tries] to respond to as many reader emails as [he] can. ”8 . [Branson, 2011] Branson claims: “People don’t leave their jobs through lack of pay – they leave because they aren’t valued. Many companies leave people in boxes; encourage them to be adaptable and innovative. ”9 [Branson, 2011] Owen exhibited his consideration for his employees in a very different way, but with the same aim of achieving employee happiness.

Having to work in a grocery shop himself from the age of 8, Owen realised the harm of child labour and seeked to stop it in his later life. In 1815 he persuaded supporters in parliament to put forward a bill on child labour. While this bill did not have as much success as Owen hoped, as many mill owners fought against the proposition, Owen was an instigator in improving the lives of child workers. He also improved welfare standards for older workers, shortening working hours and increasing wages. Eight hours' daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep". 10[Owen, 1833] Branson and Owen’s methods of achieving employee happiness were highly influenced by the times they were working in. In Owen’s time, most working conditions were poor and wages were low, so simply by improving these factors employees would instantly become happier.

In the current day there is a huge range of jobs with all ranges of wages, and many regulations in place to ensure employee welfare. Therefore, to appeal to his employees, Branson realised that a more personal approach was necessary, hence allowing his employees to contact him directly. Companies are a lot larger these days than in the early 19th Century when Owen was working, so being able to have a personal relationship with the head of a company is much rarer in this day and age.

Both pioneers identified the most effective way of attaining contentment from their employees in the environment they were living in. Both Branson and Owen were pioneers of their time, achieving what many believed impossible. Despite leaving school at the age of 16 and being diagnosed with Dyslexia, Branson has risen above the odds and is responsible for starting over 400 companies, most famous for establishing Virgin, which ranges from record shops to airlines.

No other manager in history has been at the helm of such a large business empire, and before Branson, it is doubtable that anyone would have thought it possible. Owen, on the other hand, was more of a pioneer in the domain of welfare than the extensiveness of his company, providing above and beyond what would be expected of a manager of his time, from nurseries to children to evening classes for adults. While, at the time, most managers would see these initiatives as an unnecessary expense, Owen’s cotton mills became very successful businesses with healthy, content employees.

Quite possibly, were it not for Owen identifying how much success can come to a manager who treats his employees well, Branson may not have realised the importance of having such good relationships with his employees which could be seen as the key to his success. One of the main contrasts between Richard Branson and Robert Owen are their views on education. Owen believed that education was one of the most important factors in a company; the better the education of the employees, the better employees they are. To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate". 11[Owen, 1826] Owen provided schooling for employees and their children, putting children’s education ahead of their contribution to his company. Branson, on the other hand left school himself at 16 and hasn’t looked back. ‘Richard Branson, founder and chairman of London-based Virgin Group, didn’t breeze through school. In fact, school was something of a nightmare for him. His scores on standardized tests were dismal, initially pointing to a similar future.

Despite the difficulties and challenges posed by his acknowledged dyslexia, his gifted interpersonal and business talents drove him to succeed. ’12[Anon] In contrast to Owen’s beliefs, Branson is proof that education is not necessarily an important factor in success. Furthermore, Richard Branson believes that "work should not be a chore and should be fun. You want to have fun at home; why shouldn't you have fun at work"13[Branson, 2011]. Owen also considered leisure and recreation important. He arranged concerts and dancing evenings for the benefit of community.

However, even though both pioneers think of fun as an important part of working life, Robert Owen used a stricter approach to management and was a strong believer in discipline, for example by keeping track of employees behaviour by the aforementioned multicolored pieces of wood and disciplining those who repeatedly showed low performance. To conclude, Branson and Owen are and were strong pioneers of their time, who shared many values. Managers could learn ample from both men, especially when it comes to employee relationships.

In general, it is indispensable that modern day managers consider how successful pioneers such as Owen and Branson apply and practise management theory, as it shows the outcome of different particular methods and techniques, in this pairs case; high levels of success. For example, Douglas McGregor stated that he believed that a Theory Y manager would be more successful at motivating their employees than a Theory X, and Sir Richard Branson was almost certainly a Theory Y manager, so a modern manager can consider whether the method that pioneer practised was positively effective or not.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who laboured so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries” [Ensign, 1984]. 14

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Management Robert Owen and Richard Branson. (2017, Apr 23). Retrieved from

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