Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson (born 18 July 1950) is an English industrialist, best known for his Virgin brand of over 360 companies. Branson's first successful business venture was at age 16, when he published a magazine called Student. He then set up an audio record mail-order business in 1970. In 1972, he opened a chain of record stores, Virgin Records, later known as Virgin Megastores and rebranded after a management buyout as Zavvi in late 2007.
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. Richard Branson is the 236th richest person according to Forbes' 2008 list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of approximately $2.4 billionUSD.
Branson was born at Stonefield Nursing Home in Blackheath, South London, the son of Edward James Branson and Eve Branson (née Huntley Flindt). His grandfather, the Right Honourable Sir George Arthur Harwin Branson, was a judge of the High Court of Justice and a Privy Councillor. Branson was educated at
Branson started his first record business after he traveled 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 1970. 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. Branson 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
In 1971, Branson was arrested and charged for selling records in Virgin stores that had been declared 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. In 1991 in a consortium with David Frost, Richard Branson had made the unsuccessful bid for three ITV franchisees under the CPV-TV name.
In 1992, to keep his airline company afloat, Branson sold the Virgin label to EMI for $1 billion. Branson says that he 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. This was later sold to Zavvi, which has since closed all stores permanently.
He is the eldest among his siblings Lindi and Vanessa. His father Ted followed in his father's footsteps, assuming the career of a barrister. Branson's mother, Eve, worked in the theatre, as a glider pilot instructor and as a flight attendant.
Branson had poor academic records, contrasted with excellent performance in sports.
Branson was originally married to Kristen Tomassi but is now married to his second wife, Joan Templeman, with whom he has two children: Holly (b. 1981), a doctor, and Sam Branson (b. 1984). The couple wed, at Holly's suggestion when she was eight years old, in 1989 at Necker Island, a 74-acre (300,000 m2) island in the British Virgin Islands that Branson owns. He also owns land on the
In 1998 Branson released his autobiography entitled Losing My Virginity, an international bestseller.
Branson was deeply saddened by the disappearance of fellow adventurer Steve Fossett in September 2007, and the following month wrote an article for Time magazine entitled "My Friend, Steve Fossett."
Branson formed Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984, launched Virgin Mobile in 1999, Virgin Blue in
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.
In 1992, 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 rolling stock and 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 Airlines forming Brussels Airlines. It also started a national airline based in
After the so-called campaign of "dirty tricks" (see expanded reference in Virgin Atlantic Airways), 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 license 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 US$200,000 using Scaled Composites White Knight Two.
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 organization driven on informality and information, one that is bottom-heavy rather than strangled by top-level management.
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
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.
In June 2006, a tip-off from Virgin Atlantic led US and
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 ten 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, James Hansen andJames 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.
Richard Branson got involved with football when he sponsored Nuneaton Borough for their January 2006 FA Cup 3rd round game against Middlesbrough. 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.
On 13 October 2007, Branson's Virgin Group sought to add Northern Rock to its empire after submitting an offer which would result in Branson personally owning 30% of the company, changing the company's name from Northern Rock to Virgin Money. The Daily Mail ran a campaign against his bid and Liberal Democrats' financial spokesperson Vince Cable suggested in the House of Commons that Branson's criminal conviction for tax evasion might be felt by some as a good enough reason not to trust him with public money. 
On 10 January 2008, Branson's Virgin Healthcare announced that it would open a chain of health care clinics that would offer conventional medical care alongside homeopathic and complementary therapies. TheFinancial Times reported that Ben Bradshaw,
In February 2009, Branson's Virgin organisation were reported as bidding to buy the former Honda Formula One team. Branson later stated an interest in Formula One, but claimed that before the Virgin brand became involved with Honda or any other team, Formula One would have to develop a more economically efficient and environmentally-responsible image. At the start of the 2009 formula one season on March 28, it was announced that Virgin would be sponsoring the new Brawn GP team, with discussions also underway about introducing a less "dirty" fuel in the medium term.
In the late 1990s, Branson and musician Peter Gabriel discussed with Nelson Mandela their idea of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and without any vested personal interest to solve difficult global conflicts.
On 18 July 2007, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela announced the formation of a new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. The founding members of this group are Desmond Tutu, Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson, and Muhammad Yunus. The Elders is independently funded by a group of "Founders", including Branson and Gabriel.
Desmond Tutu serves as the chair of The Elders— who will use their collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are causing or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world. They will work together over the next several months to carefully consider which specific issues they will approach.
In September 2007, Richard Branson chaired the jury of the first Picnic Green Challenge, a €500,000 award for best new green initiative, set up by the Dutch "Postcode Loterij" (ZIP code Lottery) and the PICNIC Network of creative professionals. The first Green Challenge was won by Qurrent with the Qbox.
In March 2008, Richard Branson hosted an environmental gathering at his private island, Necker Island, in the Caribbean with several prominent entrepreneurs, celebrities, and world leaders. They discussed global warming-related problems facing the world, hoping that this meeting will be a precursor to many more future discussions regarding similar problems. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Wikipedia co-founderJimmy Wales, and Larry Page of Google were in attendance.
A 1998 attempt at an around-the-world balloon flight by Branson, Fossett, and Lindstrand ends in the Pacific Ocean on 25 December 1998.
Richard Branson made several world record-breaking attempts after 1985, when in the spirit of the Blue Riband he attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing. 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 Branson to reimburse the government for the rescue cost. In 1986, in his "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II", with sailing expert Daniel McCarthy, he beat the record by two hours. A year later his hot air balloon "Virgin Atlantic Flyer" crossed the Atlantic. This was the largest balloon at 2.3 million cubic feet (65,000 m³), and the first hot-air balloon crossing the Atlantic. It reached 130 miles per hour (209 km/h).
In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada, 6,700 miles (10,800 km), in a balloon of 2,600,000 cubic feet (74,000 m3). This broke the record, with a speed of 245 miles per hour (394 km/h).
Between 1995 and 1998 Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett made 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 3 in March 1999.
In March 2004, Branson set a record by travelling from Dover to Calais in a Gibbs Aquada, in 1 hour, 40 minutes, and 6 seconds, the fastest crossing of the English Channel in anamphibious vehicle. The previous record of six hours was set by two Frenchmen.
In September 2008 Branson and his children made an unsuccessful attempt at an Eastbound record crossing of the Atlantic ocean under sail in the 99 feet (30 m) sloop Virgin Money . The boat, also known asSpeedboat, is owned by NYYC member Alex Jackson, who was a co-skipper on this passage, with Branson and Mike Sanderson. After 2 days, 4 hours, winds of force 7 to 9 (strong gale), and seas of 40 feet (12 m), a 'monster wave' destroyed the spinnaker, washed a ten-man life raft overboard and severely ripped the mainsail. She eventually continued to St. George's, Bermuda.
Branson at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.
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 Majors" video.
He was also the star of a reality television show on Fox called The Rebel Billionaire (2004), in which sixteen 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 features 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 Simpsons episode "Monty Can't Buy Me Love" as the tycoon Arthur Fortune, and as the ballooning megalomaniac Richard Chutney (a pun on Branson, as in Branston Pickle) in Believe Nothing. The character Grandson Richard 39 in Terry Pratchett's Wings is modeled 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' and appeared alongside his son, Sam, with a Virgin Galactic-style commercial suborbital shuttle at the centre of his storyline. He also has a cameo in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Here, he is seen as a passenger going through Miami Airport security check-in and being frisked – several Virgin Atlantic planes appear soon after.
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 Moorerecording their last comedy album. Branson and his mother were also featured in the documentary film, Lemonade Stories. 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 honor of the famous Star Trek ships, and in 2006, offered actor William Shatner a free ride on the inaugural space launch of Virgin Galactic.
In August 2007, Branson announced on The Colbert Report that he had named a new aircraft Air Colbert. He later doused political satirist and talk show host Stephen Colbert with water from his mug. Branson subsequently took a retaliatory splash from Colbert. The interview quickly ended, with both laughing as shown on the episode aired on Comedy Central on 22 August 2007. The interview was promoted on The Report as the Colbert-Branson Interview Trainwreck. Branson then made a cameo appearance on The Soup playing an intern working under Joel McHale who had been warned against getting into water fights with Stephen Colbert, and being subsequently fired.
Branson was knighted in 1999 for "services to entrepreneurship" and presented as a millennium icon. In the 1980s, he 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 has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for Mayor of London, and polls have suggested he would be a viable candidate, though he has yet to express interest. Branson is 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 deals with Virgin Mobile after a complaint.
In 1988, Branson wanted to buy Virgin Music back for the same amount of money, per share, that he had sold it for, valuing the company at £248m. The shareholders agreed, although they were unaware that Branson had already agreed to sell the same shares to Pony Canyon, a Japanese media company, for £377m. The incident was revealed in 2000 when Branson was on the verge of winning the franchise for the National Lottery from Camelot Group.
Recently regarding his business practices, Branson has written a book called Business Stripped Bare in which he highlights his experience with Virgin and provides valuable tips for budding entrepreneurs.
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".
On 7 December 2007, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon presented Branson with the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his support for environmental and humanitarian causes.