Richard Branson Biography

Richard Branson

This flamboyant British entrepreneur with a seemingly insatiable appetite for starting new businesses is the son of a lawyer and an airline stewardess.

He was educated at the exclusive Stowe School but did not excel, possibly due to his nearsightedness and dyslexia. In his teens he developed a national magazine, Student at the Age of Sixteen. At seventeen he began a student advisory service.

After leaving school, Branson entered the music industry. Considering that he could sell records cheaper than the existing average, he started a mail-order catalogue with friends. It was a success, and they opened a record discount shop. They named the business Virgin, because it was their first venture.

Virgin Records was formed in 1972. The first recording studio was built in Oxfordshire, England. Mike Oldfield recorded the very first album, and it sold over five million copies. When punk came along, Virgin signed the outrageous Sex Pistols when other record companies refused to touch them. The move turned out to be a marketing coup.

Virgin Airlines is one of Richard Branson's main businesses. Formed in 1984, it is part owned by Singapore Airlines, and it is the second largest British long haul international airline, and has won many awards.

To keep his airline afloat, Branson sold the Virgin music label to EMI in 1992, a more conservative company which previously had rescinded a contract with the Sex Pistols.

Branson apparently wept when the sale was completed since the record business had been the genesis of his Virgin Empire.

In 1994, Sir Richard made a bid to run the National Lottery, promising to give all the profits to charity, and lost. He failed with a second bid five years later.

In 1997, Branson took over some of Britain's aging railway network, under the title Virgin Rail. Despite the introduction of new trains, the network is still dogged by delays and service interruptions. More recently Branson has founded a mobile phone network, an internet company, and a Cola, unsurprisingly titled Virgin Cola.

In 2006, Branson sold his Virgin Mobile company to telecoms company NTL:Telewest for £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 in February 2007, under the name Virgin Media.

On 9 February 2007, Branson announced the Virgin Earth Challenge, which awards $25 million to an individual or team that designs a viable product that will reduce greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without any harmful effects. Over 2,600 applications were made and 11 finalists were revealed on 2 November 2011.

In 2007, Branson also bought a ten per cent stake in Malaysian airline AirAsia X and bid to buy a 30 per cent stake in Northern Rock, which failed.

However, Branson was able to takeover Northern Rock for £747 million at the end of 2011, with the deal being finalised on 1 January 2012. He has now launched Virgin Money, with a range of new products yet to be announced.

Branson expanded his healthcare empire in 2008 by opening health care clinics offering traditional medical treatment as well as homeopathy under the name Virgin Healthcare.

At the start of the Formula One racing season in 2009, Branson announced that Virgin was sponsoring the new Brawn GP team. At the end of the season, the team became Virgin Racing.

According to the Forbes 2011 list of billionaires, Branson is the fourth richest British citizen and 254th richest person in the world.

Branson is also well known for his personal adventures. In 1987 Branson crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the "Virgin Atlantic Flyer", which was the first and largest hot air balloon to cross the ocean. Branson now plans to circle the world in his hot air balloon, and has made several unsuccessful attempts.

Richard Branson received a knighthood in 1999. He is married to Joan and has two children, Holly and Sam.

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