Born on July 18, 1950, Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is not only an incredibly successful entrepreneur, but also an inspiration to everybody who wants to start a new business. Always ready to explore new horizons, always fighting to break old records, Branson shows the world that the sky is the limit with every new success that he achieves.
But was this fascinating billionaire always this successful? Not really. As a child, he was not very bright and he didn’t do well in school. Suffering from dyslexia and nearsightedness, young Richard almost failed out of the Scaitcliffe School. At age 13 his parents (Edward James Branson, a barrister, and Eve Branson, a flight attendant) transferred him to Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. But life was not any easier for the young teenager at the new educational institution either, so at the age of 16 he decided to drop out of school. Usually people don’t envision great lives for youngsters who give up on their formal education so early, but great personalities were never mainstream people. And neither was Richard Branson.
At only 16 years of age he started his first business venture, a youth magazine called “Student”. After the publication of its first edition, the headmaster at Stowe School reportedly said “Congratulations Branson. I predict you will either go to prison or become a millionaire”. Well, Sir Branson is now neither an inmate nor a millionaire, but a billionaire, with a net worth of $4.2 billion, to be more exact. His empire consists of over 400 companies around the world. No wonder he was knighted in 2000 for his remarkable “service to entrepreneurship”.
The definition of the word “entrepreneur” goes something like this: “A person who organizes, operates and assumes the risk for a business venture”. But how do they call a person who does this for over 400 times? Well, since there is no word for that, the Queen of the Commonwealth realms just made Mr. Branson a knight.
Now let’s go back to the very beginning of Sir Branson’s huge empire. His first venture – the Student magazine – turned out to be very successful, selling $8,000 worth of advertising in its first edition. But that was not enough for young Richard. In 1970, he and the staff at Student discussed about selling cut-out records at very small prices. They advertised in mail order catalogues and the number of people ordering records from their new business started growing at a rapid pace. They soon had enough reasons to open a record discount shop. After finding a proper place, they had to find a good name for the shop too. They had three variants to choose from: Student, Slipped Disc and Virgin. Since they were all new in the business, they decided that the most appropriate name for their small company would be Virgin.
The rented shop attracted so many customers, that Virgin soon turned into one of the top chains of music megastores in the world. By 1972, Branson felt strong enough to open a recording studio and name it Virgin Records. The studio’s first release was a chart-topping album, called “Tubular Bells”, by English instrumentalist Mike Oldfield. It was released in 1973. This was a great debut both for the artists and for Virgin Record, which attracted many other famous names to the studio, like the very controversial Sex Pistols, Genesis, Culture Club and the Rolling Stones.
Branson’s next important venture was airline company Virgin Atlantic (founded in 1984). This was a quite successful new company, but in 1992 it faced some serious financial problems. Branson found himself forced to take drastic measures: he had to sell his Virgin music label to a more conservative studio (EMI), which had turned down the Sex Pistols before the group came to Virgin Records. Branson reportedly wept when the deal was closed, as the studio had been his first Virgin company, the beginning of his empire. The decision was however wise, as Virgin Atlantic survived the crises and even became the second largest airline company in the U.K. After he regained his financial balance, Branson started a new recording company, called V2, and attracted famous artists like Tom Jones, Powderfinger, Stereophonics and Mercury Rev.
For Richard Branson, every new business achievement was a proof that he could do even more. He never settled and he now owns some world famous brands like Virgin Megastores, Virgin Holidays, Virgin Trains, Virgin Active, Virgin Galactic and lately Virgin Oceanic. His own explanation for the unceasing expansion of his empire? “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”
This philosophy of his is not limited only to his business ventures. When it comes to “apparently unachievable challenges”, Branson is ready to put more than his money at risk. He attempted (and even succeeded) to break several world records, all of which implied the risk of getting injured or even die. In 1985 he attempted the fastest Atlantic crossing with the Virgin Atlantic Challenger speedboat. He failed when the vessel capsized in British waters. Fortunately, a RAF helicopter rescued him, giving him another chance to break the record. The following year he actually did, crossing the ocean with Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, and reaching his destination two hours faster than Daniel McCarthy, the previous holder of the record.
Other world records include the first hot-air balloon Atlantic crossing, with the largest balloon ever (2,300,000 cubic feet). He later crossed the Pacific in a 2,600,000-cubic-feet balloon, establishing a new record, with a speed of 245 mph. He also set the record for the fastest English Channel crossing in an amphibious vehicle (1 hour, 40 minutes and 6 seconds).
On a more personal note, Branson and his wife Joan had a daughter who died at just four days after birth (1979). She was named Clare Sarah. In 1981 a new baby girl was born, and the couple named her Holly. When they had Holly, Richard and Joan were not married. So when their daughter was old enough to care about these things (eight years old), she suggested that her parents got married, which they did in 1989 at Necker Island (Branson’s property in the British Virgin Islands). The couple’s second child – a boy named Sam – was born in 1985.
The inspirational Sir Richard Branson is a truly fascinating man who has proven numerous times in his life that Dale Carnegie was right when he said that “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare”. Always establishing new goals for himself and constantly finding new ways of growing his Virgin empire, the man has also had several humanitarian initiatives, like signing the Global Zero campaign (an international nuclear weapons elimination initiative) and hosting an environmental gathering on his private island, where several world leaders, entrepreneurs and celebrities participated. He sais that among the people who most influenced his life was Nelson Mandela, whom he described as “one of the most inspiring men I have ever met and had the honor to call my friend”.