VirginGalacticIs the art of leadership being able to hide your panic? A group of senior CEOs certainly thought so yesterday. They talked openly and honestly about the doubts and worries they experienced in leadership positions, at all levels in their careers. I was at the GlobalScot conference in Glasgow and it was refreshing to hear their honesty about the challenge of leading successfully. A former financial services CEO said that several times he had been “on the point of resigning when [he] began to realise that perhaps things were moving and changing for the better”. Put this into perspective when you consider the scale of leading a project of the vision and scale of Virgin Galactic, which has a ten year timeline and an investment of $400m before any income is generated. Space tourism may sound like a fanciful idea or perhaps a slightly off-the-wall stunt by Richard Branson, but the reality is actually a stunning business concept. Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic, sees space as the least commercialised area of travel and the one where the next industrial revolution will take place, if we can get there cheaply. Initially, Virgin saw the project as a way of developing technologies to overcome long-term green and cost issues in their transport businesses. As such, every stage in the investment process set clear business hurdles to overcome. Perhaps most impressive though is the way Whitehorn has driven innovation based on a need to combine a profitable business model, customer requirements and engineering solutions. For instance, market research made it clear that people will only going to pay for space travel if they can experience weightlessness, so you need a big enough space craft to allow this to happen. That insight helped clarify the design requirements for WhiteKnightTwo the launch plane. Now they are on the brink of going live with a space tourism business that will be profitable in year one and also entirely new businesses to launch commercial satellites (for $2m instead of $40m) and a new platform for scientific research. In future, they are planning a new form of world travel that will for instance reduce the time from London to Sydney to 2 hours. I found the whole story inspiring, it is a business built on a grand vision, that has evolved and as they have gained knowledge. The ongoing business focus and the creativity to solve solutions are real lessons for all leaders and I can’t help feeling along the way Whitehorn has learnt a lot about hiding the doubts and panic!