Born in 1950, Sir Richard Branson was not an academic success. He struggled with dyslexia and left school at 16. On his last day the headmaster told him he would “either end up in jail or become a millionaire."
Branson wasn’t idle though, upon leaving education he set up a magazine called Student. The publication sold $8000 worth of advertising for its first edition, allowing Branson to distribute it for free.
In 1970 Branson was enmeshed in the London music scene and came up with the idea to launch a mail-order record company called Virgin Records to help fund the magazine. The mail-order company performed successfully enough that Branson was able to open a physical store in Oxford Street. That in turn was successful enough to allow Branson to open a recording studio.
The studio was prosperous from the start. In a stroke of luck, the first single it produced was Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield – which was a smash hit, staying on the UK charts for over a year. Using the momentum of this success, Virgin signed other bands to the label, including bands more traditional labels were cautious about signing, like the Sex Pistols.
In 1984 Branson branched out into his biggest venture – Virgin Atlantic Airlines. Through the 1980s Virgin group set up or acquired a number of different ventures, mostly around travel and music.
Not all was an unmitigated success though. In 1992 Branson sold Virgin Music to EMI for £500 million to keep the struggling Virgin Atlantic afloat. He wept after signing the contract, because the record business had been the very start of the Virgin Group.
Still, Branson was to continue to embark on new ventures in the 1990s, including Virgin Vodka, Virgin Financial Advisers, Virgin Trains, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Active and even Virgin Brides (which specialised in bridal wear, rather than arranged marriages.) Some of these ventures were more successful than others.
In 2004, Branson, a long-time adventurer, launched his most extravagant business. Virgin Galactic promises to make space a tourist destination, and has sold tickets to space, despite not having made a successful flight yet.
As an adventurer Branson has attempted to break a number of world records; starting in 1985 attempting to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat. He failed the first time but broke the record in 1986. Through the 1990s he made a number of attempts to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon. And in 2004 he broke the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle.
Sir Richard Branson was knighted in 2000 for services to entrepreneurship.
Since the 1990s he has been involved in a number of charitable causes, particularly around missing children, LGBT rights and climate change.
He has two children and lives, aptly enough on a private island in the British Virgin Islands.
Quotes about success from Sir Richard Branson:
- “Entrepreneurship is about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward with it.”
- “You can’t do good business with a bad person. Find the right people to work with and you can’t go wrong.”
- “For a successful entrepreneur it can mean extreme wealth. But with extreme wealth comes extreme responsibility. And the responsibility for me is to invest in creating new businesses, create jobs, employ people, and to put money aside to tackle issues where we can make a difference.”
- “Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.
- “If you spot an opportunity and are really excited by it, throw yourself into it with everything you’ve got.
- “Entrepreneurial business favours the open mind. It favours people whose optimism drives them to prepare for many possible futures, pretty much purely for the joy of doing so.”
- “Happiness is the secret ingredient for successful businesses. If you have a happy company it will be invincible.”
- “Cover the downside.”
- “Building a business is not rocket science, it’s about having a great idea and seeing it through with integrity.”
- “Right now I’m just delighted to be alive and to have had a nice long bath.”