Richard Branson is an English entrepreneur best known for his Virgin brand of over 350 companies.
Richard's first successful business venture was at age 16, when he published a magazine called Student. He then set up a record mail-order business in 1970. In 1971, he opened a chain of record stores, now known as Virgin Megastores.
With his flamboyant and competitive style, Branson's Virgin brand grew rapidly during the 1980s - as he set up Virgin Atlantic Airways and expanded the Virgin Records music label.
Today, his worth is estimated at over $7.8-billion according to The Sunday Times Rich List 2006.
He is best known to television audiences for hosting the 2004 reality television show The Rebel Billionaire, in which 16 contestants were tested for their entrepreneurship and sense of adventure.
Branson was educated at Scaitcliffe School (now Bishopsgate School) until the age of 13. He then attended Stowe School until he was 15. Branson has dyslexia, resulting in poor academic performance as a student.
He was the captain of football and cricket teams, and by the age of 15 he had started two ventures that eventually failed: one growing Christmas trees and another raising budgerigars.
At 16, Branson left school and moved to London, where he began his first successful business, Student magazine. When he was 17, he opened his first charity, the "Student Advisory Centre."
Branson started his first record business after he travelled across the English Channel and purchased crates of "cut-out" records from a record discounter. He sold the records out of the boot of his car to retail outlets in London.
He continued selling cut-outs through a record mail order business in 1969.
Trading under the name "Virgin" he sold records for considerably less than the so-called "High Street" outlets, especially the chain W.H. Smith. The name 'Virgin' was a selling point because records were sold in a new condition (unlike in other shops where records were being handled when listened to in record booths).
At the time many products were sold under restrictive marketing agreements which limited discounting, despite efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to limit so-called resale price maintenance. In effect Branson began the series of changes that led to large-scale discounting of recorded music.
Richard and some colleagues were discussing a new name for his business when one suggested that it should be called 'Virgin' since they were all virgins to business.
Branson eventually started a record shop in Oxford Street in London and, shortly after, launched the record label Virgin Records with Nik Powell.
Branson had earned enough money from his record store to buy a country estate, in which he installed a recording studio. He leased out studio time to fledgling artists, including multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield.
In 1971, Branson was arrested and charged for selling records in Virgin stores that had been declared as export stock. He settled out-of-court with UK Customs and Excise with an agreement to repay the unpaid tax and fines. Branson's mother Eve re-mortgaged the family home to help pay the settlement.
Virgin Records' first release was Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, which was a best-seller and British LP chart topper.
The company signed controversial bands such as the Sex Pistols, which other companies were reluctant to sign. It also won praise for exposing the public to obscure avant-garde music such as the krautrock bands Faust and Can.
Virgin Records also introduced Culture Club to the music world. In the early 1980s, Virgin purchased the gay nightclub Heaven.
To keep his airline company afloat, Branson sold the Virgin label to EMI in 1992, a more conservative company which previously had rescinded a contract with the Sex Pistols. Branson is said to have wept when the sale was completed since the record business had been the genesis of the Virgin Empire.
He later formed V2 Records to re-enter the music business.
Branson is married to his second wife, Joan Templeman, with whom he has two children, Holly a trainee Doctor and Sam Branson. The couple wed at Holly's suggestion when she was eight years old.
He owns Necker Island, a 74-acre island in the British Virgin Islands.
In 1998 Branson released his autobiography entitled Losing My Virginity.
Branson formed Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984, launched Virgin Mobile in 1999, Virgin Blue in Australia in 2000, and later failed in a 2000 bid to handle the National Lottery.
In 1997, Branson took what many saw as being one of his riskier business exploits by entering into the railway business. Virgin Trains won the franchises for the former Intercity West Coast and Cross-Country sectors of British Rail.
Launched with the usual Branson fanfare with promises of new high-tech tilting trains and enhanced levels of service, Virgin Trains soon ran into problems with the aging rolling stock and crumbling infrastructure it had inherited from British Rail.
The company's reputation was almost irreversibly damaged in the late 1990s as it struggled to make trains reliably run on time while it awaited the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line, and the arrival of new rolling stock.
Virgin acquired European short-haul airline Euro Belgian Airlines in 1996 and renamed it Virgin Express. In 2006 the airline was merged with SN Brussels. It also started a national airline based in Nigeria, called Virgin Nigeria.
Another airline, Virgin America, is set to launch out of San Francisco International Airport in 2007.
Branson has also developed a Virgin Cola brand and even a Virgin Vodka brand, which has not been a very successful enterprise.
As a consequence of these lacklustre performers and perceived obscure accounting practices, the satirical British fortnightly magazine Private Eye has been critical of Branson and his companies.
After the so-called campaign of "dirty tricks", Branson sued rival airline British Airways for libel in 1992. John King, then-chairman of British Airways, counter-sued, and the case went to trial in 1993.
British Airways, faced with likely defeat, settled the case, giving £500,000 to Branson and a further £110,000 to his airline and had to pay legal fees of up to £3-million. Branson divided his compensation (the so-called "BA bonus") among his staff.
On 25 September 2004, Branson announced the signing of a deal under which a new space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, will licence the technology behind Spaceship One — funded by Microsoft co-Founder Paul Allen and designed by legendary American aeronautical engineer and visionary Burt Rutan — to take paying passengers into suborbital space.
Virgin Galactic (wholly owned by Virgin Group) plans to make flights available to the public by late 2009 with tickets priced at $200,000.
Branson's next venture with the Virgin group is Virgin Fuels, which is set to respond to global warming and exploit the recent spike in fuel costs by offering a revolutionary, cheaper fuel for automobiles and, in the near future, aircraft.
Branson has stated that he was formerly a global warming skeptic and was influenced in his decision by a breakfast meeting with Al Gore.
Branson has been tagged as a "transformational leader" in the management lexicon, with his maverick strategies and his stress on the Virgin Group as an organisation driven on informality and information, one that is bottom-heavy rather than strangled by top-level management.
He was 9th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, worth almost $8-billion.
On 21 September 2006, Branson pledged to invest the profits of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains in research for environmentally friendly fuels. The investment is estimated to be worth $3-billion.
On 4 July 2006, Branson sold his Virgin Mobile company to UK cable TV, broadband, and telephone company NTL/NTL:Telewest for almost £1-billion. As part of the sale, the company pays a minimum of £8.5-million per year to use the Virgin name and Branson became the company's largest shareholder.
The new company was launched with much fanfare and publicity on 8 February 2007, under the name Virgin Media. The decision to merge his Virgin Media Company with NTL was in order to integrate both of the companies' compatible parts of commerce.
Branson used to own three quarters of Virgin Mobile, whereas now he owns 15 percent of the new Virgin Media company.
In 2006, Branson formed Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation an entertainment company focussed on creating new stories and characters for a global audience. The Company was founded with author Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and entrepreneurs Sharad Devarajan and Gotham Chopra.
Branson also launched the Virgin Health Bank on 1 February 2007, offering parents-to-be the opportunity of storing their baby's umbilical cord blood stem cells in private and public stem cell banks after their baby's birth.
On 9 February 2007, Branson announced the setting up of a new Global science and technology prize — The Virgin Earth Challenge — in the belief that history has shown that prizes of this nature encourage technological advancements for the good of mankind.
The Virgin Earth Challenge will award $25-million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least 10 years without countervailing harmful effects.
This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.
Branson also announced that he would be joined in the adjudication of the Prize by a panel of five judges — all world authorities in their respective fields: Al Gore, Sir Crispin Tickell, Tim Flannery, Jim Hansen and James Lovelock.
The panel of judges will be assisted in their deliberations by The Climate Group and Special Advisor to The Virgin Earth Prize Judges, Steve Howard.
Branson got involved with football when he sponsored Nuneaton Borough A.F.C. for their FA Cup 3rd round game against Middlesbrough F.C.. The game ended 1-1 and the Virgin brand was also on Nuneaton Borough's shirts for the replay which they eventually lost 2-5.
World Record Attempts
Richard Branson has been involved in a number of world record-breaking attempts since 1985, when in the spirit of the Blue Riband he attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest recorded time.
His first attempt in the "Virgin Atlantic Challenger" led to the boat capsizing in British waters and a rescue by RAF helicopter, which received wide media coverage. Some newspapers called for Richard Branson to reimburse the British government for the cost of his rescue.
In 1986, his "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" made a successful crossing, beating previous records by two hours.
This was followed a year later by the epic hot air balloon crossing of the same ocean in "Virgin Atlantic Flyer". This was not only the first hot-air balloon to cross the Atlantic, but was the largest ever flown at 2.3-million cubic feet (65,000 m³) capacity, reaching speeds in excess of 130 miles per hour (209 km/h).
In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Arctic Canada, the furthest distance of 6,700 miles. Again, he broke all existing records, with speeds of up to 245 miles per hour in a balloon of 2.6-million cubic feet (73,600 m³).
Between 1995 and 1998 Richard Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett, made a number of attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. In late 1998 they made a record-breaking flight from Morocco to Hawaii but were unable to complete a global flight before Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in Breitling Orbiter achieved the first circumnavigation in March 1999.
In March 2004, Richard Branson set another world record by traveling from Dover to Calais in a Gibbs Aquada, breaking all previous records for fastest time in crossing the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle.
The crossing was performed in 1 hour, 40 minutes, and 6 seconds. The previous record was set by two Frenchmen at 6 hours.
Television, Film, and Print
Branson has guest starred, usually playing himself, on several 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.
Branson made several appearances during the nineties on the BBC Saturday morning show Live & Kicking, where he was referred to as 'the pickle man' by comedy act Trev and Simon (in reference to Branston pickle).
Branson also appears in a cameo early in XTC's "Generals and Major's" video.
He was also the star of a reality television show on Fox called The Rebel Billionaire, in which 16 contestants were tested for their entrepreneurship and sense of adventure. It did not succeed as a rival show to Donald Trump's The Apprentice and only lasted one season.
His high public profile often leaves him open as a figure of satire — the 2000 AD series Zenith featured a parody of Branson as a super villain, as the comic's publisher and favoured distributor and the Virgin group were in competition at the time.
He is also caricatured in The Simpson's episode "Monty Can't Buy Me Love" as the tycoon Arthur Fortune, and as the ballooning megalomaniac Richard Chutney (a pun on Branson) in Believe Nothing.
The character Grandson Richard 39 in Terry Pratchett's Wings is modelled on Branson.
He has a cameo appearance in several films, Around the World in 80 Days (2004) where he played a hot air balloon operator; Superman Returns, where he was credited as a "Shuttle Engineer", alongside his son Sam, with Virgin Galactic-esque commercial suborbital shuttle at the centre of his storyline.
He also had a cameo in James Bond film Casino Royale in which Branson played a passenger going through airport security.
He makes a number of brief and disjointed appearances in the cult classic documentary Derek and Clive Get the Horn which follows the exploits of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore recording their last comedy album.
In early 2006 on Rove Live, Rove McManus and Sir Richard pushed each other into a swimming pool fully clothed live on TV during a "Live at your house" episode.
Branson is a Star Trek fan and named his new spaceship VSS Enterprise in honour of the famous Star Trek ships, and in 2006, offered actor William Shatner a free ride on the inaugural space launch of Virgin Galactic.
Branson was honoured by the Conservative government in the 1980s, and was briefly given the post of "litter tsar" by Margaret Thatcher — charged with "keeping Britain tidy."
He was again seen as close to the government when the Labour Party came to power in 1997.
In 2005 he declared that there were only negligible differences between the two main parties on economic matters.
He reputedly considered running for Mayor of London in 2004, but decided not to. Branson has described himself as a libertarian.
Branson's business empire is owned by a complicated series of offshore trusts and companies. The Sunday Times stated that his wealth is calculated at £3.065-billion; if he were to retire to his Caribbean island and liquidate all of this he would pay relatively little in tax.
When Virgin Mobile launched its service in Canada on 1 March 2005, the use of "naughty nurses" in its advertising triggered "The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario" to demand an apology from Branson and an immediate stop to the campaign, and called on members to boycott Virgin Mobile.
Virgin Mobile spokeswoman Paula Lash said the company never intended to offend anyone, but was not about to pull the advertising.
When Virgin Mobile included "super hot holiday" wrapping paper with the December 2005 issue of youth magazine Vice, as part of the Hot Box promotion, the wrapping paper contained illustrated holiday angels, where the male angel is touching the female's breast, while the female angel has her hand on the male's genitals.
Famous Players stopped its partnership deal with Virgin Mobile after a complaint.
In 1993, Branson was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Technology from Loughborough University.
He was knighted in 1999 for "services to entrepreneurship".
Branson is the patron of several charities, including the International Rescue Corps and Prisoners Abroad, a registered charity which supports Britons who are detained outside of the UK.
Sir Richard appears at No. 85 on the 2002 list of "100 Greatest Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public). Sir Richard also ranks No. 86 on Channel 4's 2003 list of "100 Worst Britons".
Sir Richard was also ranked in 2007's Time Magazine Top 100 Most Influential People in the World.