"From small beginnings come great things" was never more exemplified than in the career of entrepreneur Richard Branson. Though he struggled in school, Branson swore to himself that he would be a success by any means possible. How did that commitment to success workout? Well, over the course of the last 45 years, Richard Branson has transformed himself into one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world with a vast array of successful businesses in dozens of industries. Furthermore, with a personal net worth of $4.6 billion Richard is the 6th richest person in the United Kingdom. He's been knighted, set three world records, won multiple aviation awards, a handful of humanitarian honors, and even an honorary Grammy Award. He is the ultimate multi-tasker who seems to have been blessed with the gift of Midas. Everything he has touched on earth turned to gold and pretty soon, that Midas touch might even reach beyond planet earth. This is Richard Branson's fascinating life story.
Richard Branson was born in Blackheath, London, England on July 18, 1950. The oldest child in a loving, creative family, he suffered from dyslexia which severely affected his academic performance. Despite is poor grades at school, Richard's parents were still very supportive and encouraging. This blind confidence in his abilities and potential would have an enormous impact on Richard's confidence and life. Ironically, just before graduating from high school, the headmaster predicted that Richard would either end up in incarcerated or a millionaire. He decided to focus his efforts on the latter, rather than the former, and soon launched his own record business out of the basement of his local church. As the Editor-in-Chief of The Student Magazine, he began advertising the sale of records in the publication. His small record business was an instant success, and since his overhead was less than that of the large record stores in London, he was able to sell his copies at a lower price. His record business became known as Virgin, in reference to the fact that everyone involved in the venture virtually no experience at all in life or business.
The business was successful enough that Richard was able to open a retail location on Oxford Street in 1971. The following year, he officially launched his own record label, Virgin Records. He bought an estate in the country, and refurbished it to include a recording studio. Not one to shy away from risk, he began signing bands that other labels were reluctant to take on because they seemed past their prime or too edgy. These bands included the Sex Pistols, Faust, Can, and Culture Club, among a host of other groups. His nearly flawless instincts regarding which bands were simultaneously controversial and commercial, made Virgin Records a force to be reckoned with very quickly.
Next, Richard expanded into owning nightclubs, while simultaneously taking Virgin Records global. Recognizing how music was becoming intertwined with movies and television, he launched Virgin Vision in 1983. Virgin Vision, a film and video distribution arm, would eventually form part of Virgin Communications. That same year, he launched Virgin Games, throwing his hat into the ring in the video game market when that industry was still in its very early stages.
In 1984, riding the success of his three major business ventures, Richard shifted his focus entirely when he founded Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Cargo. When asked why he was launching an airline, he responded, "My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently un-achievable challenges and trying to rise above them". With his airline off the ground, he returned to the world of music, launching, "Music Box", a 24-hour satellite music station, and then creating his own travel agency called, Virgin Holidays. The rest of the 80s were spent setting up multiple new divisions, including Virgin Classics, Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, and Virgin Broadcasting, as well as expanding the reach of the record company. He also launched in the United States by opening a recording facility in Los Angeles.
The early 90s brought about continued growth, coupled with some setbacks. While Virgin Records was continuing to expand successfully, moving into the Asian market in Japan and launching its own radio station, Virgin Airlines was struggling. Throughout the early 90s, Virgin Airlines was continually attacked by British Airways. The attacks were so ugly, that it was eventually discovered that British Airways was hacking Virgin Atlantic's computer systems, stealing customers, and spreading inaccurate news about the company. British Airways was eventually ordered to pay a $1 million fine to Branson and the airline. Richard divided the money amongst his staff members. Though British Airways was found to be actively sabotaging Virgin Atlantic, the damage to the Virgin's reputation was done. In a bid to keep the struggling airline afloat, Branson was forced to sell Virgin Records. It was a heartbreaking decision. However, it kept all of his other businesses afloat. And not just afloat. After selling Virgin Records, Branson went on an unprecedented spree of launching new ventures. He launched Virgin Direct Personal Financial Services, Virgin Express, Virgin Brides, Virgin Trains, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Active, Virgin Blue, Virgin Energy, Virgin Cars, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Health Bank, Virgin Media, Virgin America, Virgin Fuel, Virgin Money, Virgin Healthcare, Virgin Racing, and Virgin Produced. Today he has his hands in everything from biofuel, to space exploration, to makeup, to racing, to telecommunications, to film and television development. He even launched a new record label in the mid-90s, called V2.
Recently, his primary focus has been on his space exploration venture, Virgin Galactic. The goal of Virgin Galactic is to pioneer commercial space travel for the average person. The division recently announced that it was going to develop an orbital space launch system called LauncherOne. A single seat on an early Virgin Galactic voyage is expected to cost $200,000. As if space exploration wasn't impressive enough, earlier this year, he sold Virgin Media, a telecommunications and internet conglomerate, to Liberty Global for $23.3 billion.
In addition to his business ventures, Richard has applied his same well proven principles to success in launching a number of humanitarian initiatives. He founded Virgin Unite, a non-profit foundation, and with the organization, launched the Branson School on Entrepreneurship in South Africa. He is also one of the primary funders of The Elders, a group of unattached world leaders who work objectively to resolve global conflicts. Moreover, he is a signatory of Global Zero, a non-profit dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. He has participated in hunger strikes, hosted environmental symposiums at his home, and served as a celebrity fundraiser for a range of humanitarian causes. Perhaps most impressively, in February of 2013, Richard Branson joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as a member of The Giving Pledge. This means that Branson is pledging to give away at least 50% of his wealth during his life or at the time of his death.
With so much going on in his life, it is a wonder how/when/where Richard Branson ever gets to sleep. But we do know that when Richard does lay his head for rest, it's probably in a bed located in one of dozens of luxurious properties around the world. Arguably his most famous property is Necker Island, a 74 acre private estate in the British Virgin Islands. After hearing the islands were for sale in 1978, Branson made a lowball bid of $160,000. At the time the islands were worth an estimated $5 million, so the offer was laughed away. Within a few years, the owner of the islands faced a serious financial crisis and eventually accepted Richard's offer of $280,000. The islands were uninhabited at the time, so Richard spent the next three years and $10 million turning it into the ultimate luxury retreat. Today the island is worth north of $200 million, but in reality it's probably priceless. For tax purposes, the island is also technically Sir Richard's full time residence.
Richard Branson clearly seems to have discovered the blueprint for success across a multitude of industries and ventures. And more impressively, he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down any time soon. It turns out that his high school headmaster's prediction was partially right. The only problem with the prediction is that Branson did not become a criminal, or a millionaire. He became a billionaire, almost five times over! His energy and leadership skills were going to lead to big things whether he chose to use them for good or ill. Luckily for all of us, he seems to have focused on using them in a variety of positive ways. Fast forward a few decades, and the man who started with a basement record store, is now funding the development of a space station.