Born on the 18th of July 1950 in Surrey, England, Richard Charles Nicholas Branson emerged a billionaire 41 years later. Edward James Branson, his father, worked as a barrister while his mother, Eve Branson, was a flight attendant and a ballet dancer. Eve was also an entrepreneur as she sold wooden tissue boxes and waste paper bins. Richard Branson has two younger sisters; Lindy Brandson and Vanessa Branson.
In addition to that, Vanessa Branson is also an entrepreneur. Richard’s grandfather was a judge at the High Court of Justice. According to the Finding Your Roots show, Richard has 3.9% of Indian DNA as his third great grandfather left for India in 1793.
Richard Branson now owns or holds interests in more than 200 different companies.
Richard’s Early Life
As a child, Richard struggled with dyslexia. He had a hard time in school.
He attended school a prep school at Surrey call Scaitclifee School until the age of 13. Later, Richard transferred to Cliff View school at Sussex. Then, he went to Stowe School at Buckinghamshire, England, until the age of 16.
Despite his dyslexic struggle, Richard had an adventurous spirit. He was good at sports when he was in school. Moreover, he also crossed oceans in hot air balloons and took part in powerboat racing very often at a young age.
Growing to be an entrepreneur
Richard Branson decided to drop out of school when he was 16 years old. As an early school dropout, Branson moved back to London. He decided to begin a business of his own.
The Student Magazine
In 1966, Richard Branson launched a magazine about youth culture. The magazine was produced by students, for students. The magazine covered Richard’s interests such as the Vietnam war and music. Branson created a simple business plan for the magazine. He listed a few names of potential advertisers and the costs incurred to publish the magazine. The magazine was run out of his co-founders’ parents’ dingy basement.
His mother helped him with the start-up cost as she sold her necklace for £100 and offered it to Branson. Richard Branson attracted significant advertisements from firms interested in the student market. This enabled Richard to distribute the first 50,000 copies for free.
Later, in 1968, Richard Branson issued his first copy. He advertised popular albums and interviewed popular personalities such as R.D Laing and Mick Jagger. In fact, the headmaster of Stowe congratulated Brandson on the first issue. He wrote Branson a rather prophetic note that said: “Congratulations, Branson. I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.” Richard Branson would eventually do both.
The magazine tremendously grew, and in 1969, Richard’s net worth grew to £50,000. Richard began losing money from the magazine business, and he decided to form ‘Virgin Mail Order Records, a mail-order record company, to help him fund his magazine.
Virgin Mail Order Records
“I don’t go into ventures to make a fortune. I do it because I’m not satisfied with the way others are doing business.”
– Richard Branson
In 1970, Nik Powell and Richard Brandson created the virgin brand. He was inspired by the British music and drug scene surrounding him in the London commune he stayed in. He enjoyed the ‘hippie’ life.
As a matter of fact, the name ‘Virgin’ was suggested by one of his workers. The name was brought up as they were new to the business. Virgin Records was the first British discount record store. The record shop was situated at Oxford Street, London. Later in 1972, he built a recording studio in Oxfordshire, England.
However, Richard faced a hurdle as he concocted a scheme to avoid paying the British sales tax. Nonetheless, the scam uncovered faster, and Richard got arrested and jailed. He negotiated an out-of-court settlement and paid back taxes over the next three years. Following the saying, ‘once bitten twice shy,’ Richard learned his lesson and turned his business into a company that was ruled by balance sheets.
In 1973, Mike Oldfield recorded his single, “Tubular Bells.” The song stayed on the UK charts for 247 weeks. Then, Richard signed other musical groups to the label as is Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, and Culture Club. Virgin Music Publishing launched in the UK in 1973.
Virgin Music became one of the top six record companies in the world by 1977. Furthermore, Virgin Records belted out ‘God Save The Queen’ on Silver Jubilee Day in 1977, opposite for Houses of Parliament. Quiet a dangerous move Branson made there.
In 1978, Branson purchased his own private island – Necker Island. He bought it for $180,000 at that time. The only condition he was given amid the Island’s purchase was to build a resort on the island within four years.
By 1979, Richard Branson’s net worth hit £5 million.
In 1979, the first Megastore opened at Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. The store mainly focused on films and music. Then, it diversified itself as a lifestyle brand catering to families, teenagers, women, and local communities. It expanded globally; In Japan in 1990, the USA in 1992, the Middle East in 2001, and Australia in 2002.
In 1981, Branson formed Virgin Games. He released video games for classic systems such as Amiga, the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC, and the C64.
The company grew into a multimedia powerhouse and expanded into other industries such as toys, film, and education. Moreover, the company focused on more than just video games. They also took up multimedia. Therefore, the company got renamed Virgin Interactive Entertainment in 1993.
Virgin Atlantic Airways
Then in 1984, Virgin Atlantic Airways was founded. It is a British Airline with its headquarters based in Crawley, London. The Airways took to the skies its first flight between London Gatwick and Newark International Airport in June 1984. The plane was called Boeing 747-200 (G-VIRG). Branson focused mainly on good quality and value for money.
The reason why Richard Branson decided to go into the airline business is quite interesting. Richard and Joan (his wife to be at that time) were traveling to Puerto Rico, and their flight got canceled. The two, along with hundreds of passengers, were left stranded at a small island airport. Branson tracked down a chartered plan and divided the cost by the number of seats, and charged the stranded passengers $39 to rebook their seats.
Later on, Virgin Atlantic began going to Miami, Orlando, and New York City. Actually, Virgin Atlantic bought another Boeing 747 to launch its second route from London Gatwick to Miami in 1986.
Virgin Holidays was founded in 1985. It became the most successful long-haul scheduled tour operators.
Today, the company is the most successful transatlantic tour operator company. Moreover, they are the market leaders for travel to the Caribbean and the United States of America. In addition to that, they also offer holidays to South Africa, the Middle East, Mauritius, and the Indian Ocean.
Virgin Balloon Flights
Richard Branson was unstoppable. In 1987, he opened another business – The Virgin Airship and Balloon Company. With its headquarters in Telford, Shropshire, and red and white striped balloons, Richard created another historic company.
The company has more than 100 launch sites only in the United Kingdom. It also serves in Italy. In addition to that, the company is affiliated with the following organizations; the British Association of Balloon Operators (BABO), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the British Balloon and Airship Club (BBAC).
Richard expressed his love for books through ‘Virgin Publishing’ in 1991. The company’s headquarters is based in London. The company was incorporated into WH Allen later in 1991. WH Allen then renamed the company ‘Virgin Publishing Limite.’
The company is popularly known for the ‘The Doctor Who book series published from 1991 to 1997’ under The Doctor Who books imprints.
Richard sells Virgin Record to Thorn EMI for $1 billion.
Furthermore, by 1992, Virgin began struggling to stay financially liquid. Bankers advised Branson to sell the company in order to have Virgin Atlantic survive. Therefore, Richard Branson decided to sell the company to Thorn EMI. The sale generated nearly $1 billion.
Apparently, Branson was crushed by the loss and reportedly cried after the contract was signed. Nonetheless, he remained determined to stay in the music business.
Amid the sale, Virgin Atlantic launched its first super economy service. In addition to that, the service became an award-winning Premium Economy Class.
Furthermore, in 1993, Virgin Radio was born. However, the business shut down and relaunched in 2015 in the United Kingdom. The company also has stations in Thailand, India, France, Dubai, Turkey, Oman, Canada, Lebanon, Romania, Indonesia, and Switzerland.
In 1994, Richard went ahead and launched Virgin Cola and Virgin Vodka, which was later part of the Virgin Drinks company. However, Virgin Drinks closed down in 2007 as Coca-Cola came into the picture and posed great competition. Virgin Cola and Virgin Vodka can be considered as his less successful ventures.
Branson launched Virgin Direct and Virgin Cinemas in 1995. He acquired MGM Cinemas, which was the largest movie theatre operated in the United Kingdom. Branson purchased the cinema for £195m. Later, he sold 90% of the chain’s smallest cinema to Cinven and ABC for £70m. He sold 49% of Virgin Atlantic to Singapore Airlines in 1999. However, in 2002, Branson sold Virgin Cinemas to Toho and later became Toho Cinemas.
Later, Branson founded The Virgin Cosmetics Company in 1997 along with the Virgin One Account.
The One Account
In 1997, Branson founded the Virgin One Account and created a joint venture with The Royal Bank of Scotland. The company pioneered the offset mortgage in the United Kingdom. In May 1998, the business service extended to the entire British public. When the company got to a 200,000 strong customer base, Branson changed the name to Virgin Direct.
In an interview conducted in 1997 with Martyn Lewis, Richard Branson had to say this:
“I became an entrepreneur by mistake. Ever since then I’ve gone into business, not to make money, but because I think I can do it better than it’s been done elsewhere. And, quite often, just out of personal frustration about the way it’s been done by other people.”
– Richard Branson
Later in 2003, Virgin Direct was relaunched as ‘The One account’ as The Royal Bank of Scotland took most of the shareholding. Moreover, it became The Royal Bank of Scotland’s mortgage brand.
The One Account offers current account mortgages (CAM). The low mortgage-style interest rate attracted customers. The interest rate used to vary with the Bank of England. However, the One Account interest rate has not decreased along with the bank rate.
In 2008 June, The One Account mortgage rates increased by 0.25% to reflect ‘current market conditions, but the Bank of England rate did not rise.
Richard Branson The Author – ‘Losing My Virginity
In 1998, Richard Branson wrote his first autobiography – ‘Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Wa.’. He wrote incredibly about personal and business survival. In addition to that, not only is the book motivating but also unique. The fact that Richard had dyslexia and wrote a book years later is nothing less than inspiring.
Richard Branson beautifully captured his own ‘rules’ for success and his growth in the book. Furthermore, he spoke about how he created his group of companies with the pressure that surrounded him. Most interestingly, he mentioned their minimal bureaucracy and no management hierarchy throughout his business journey. The one thing noted throughout the book is that Richard is a risk-taker and a very vibrant character.
Virgin Mobile founded in 1999 as a wireless communication brand. The service is available in UK, Ireland, UAE, South Africa, Poland, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Russies.
Moreover, Branson was knighted for his contribution towards entrepreneurship in 2000. In addition to that, Virgin Group sold 49% to Singapore Airlines in the same year. They made the sale for £600.25 million. During the same year, Virginmoney.com, Virgin Cars, Virgin Energy, Virgin Student, and Virgin Wines launched.
During an interview with Sunday Time on 16th of January 2000, Branson said this:
“My philosophy is that if I have any money, I invest it in new ventures and not have it sitting around.”
More Business Expansions
Branson innovated Pendolino trains and founded Virgin Trains in 2001. Furthermore, he also made Virgin Money after Virgin Direct merged with Virginmoney.com. Later, virginmoney expanded to Australia in 2002, South Africa in 2006, and the USA in 2008. Moreover, he also founded Virgin Experience in 2001, which was later rebranded to Virgin Experience Days. He also launched Virgin Money’s credit card in the United Kingdom.
In addition to that, in 2001 the 9/11 impacted the aviation industry tragically and it entered a global slump. Most airlines drew back. However, Branson, the risk-taker did not. He decided to invest more into the customer experience. He came up with Clubhouse at London Heathrow. In addition to that, Virgin Atlantic introduced its ‘Upper Class’ suite. The suite comprised of innovative, fully flatbeds.
In June 2002, Virgin Atlantic used the Airbus A340-600. As a matter of fact, they were the first airline to use the Airbus. By 2003, Virgin Atlantic carried 3.8 million passengers.
During 2003, the airline carried 3.8 million passengers, while 2006 saw this figure rising to 4.6 million. In 2006, Virgin Atlantic introduced the Premium Economy Class to that airline market. Virgin Media was also born in 2006, which later expanded to Ireland in 2015. In 2006, Virgin Unite opened Bhubezi Healthcare Clinic in south Africa and Virgin Mobile USA. RE’Generation was born in 2006 to support at-risk and homeless youth.
The World’s First Biofuel Flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam was introduced in 2008.
Then, in June 2009, Virgin Atlantic airlines ordered 10 Airbus A33-300 aircraft and recreated a very first flight to New York to celebrate its 25th birthday.
In addition to that, Forbes listed Branson on the ‘World Billionaires’ list in 2009. At that time, Richard Branson made a fortune of $2.5 billion and owned two private islands.
Virgin Galactic Spaceship
Branson took his chances on space tourism too. He partnered with Scaled Composites and formed The Spaceship Company. Then, they set to develop a suborbital spaceplane.
In April 2013, SpaceShipTwo launched. More than 500 people reserved tickets to ride on a Virgin Galactic spaceship. Richard Branson was happy about the success and gave an interview with NBC News.
“We’re absolutely delighted that it broke the sound barrier on its very first flight, and that everything went so smoothly,” he said.
In 2014, philanthropist Richard Branson announced unlimited holidays for his employees to boost morale and loyalty amongst them.
Branson founded Virgin Voyages in 2015. In October 2017, the cruise line commemorated the milestone of laying down the keel for its first ship.
The ship designed to hold 2,800 guests and a crew of 1,150 spiraled quickly in the business world. It remained on track to debut in 2020.
In addition to that, Virgin Hotels was founded in 2010. In 2018, it took over Las Vegas as Branson bought the Hard Rock Hotel. The company worked on renovations in 2019.
Virgin Turns 50
In 2020, Virgin turned 50. Virgin Hotel Dallas and Virgin Hotels Nashvill opened.
In 2021, Branson launched a small satellite start-up. Virgin launched the LauncherOneRocket off the back of a 747 aircraft in a Californian desert.
According to a spokesperson for Virgin, NASA is an important partner for Virgin Orbit. Apparently, the small satellites will have a huge role to play in almost everything the United States space agency will do in the future.
His net worth as of the 2nd of March, 2021 is $5.6 billion.