Richard Branson one of Britain's best Britons
Richard Branson has been named one of Britain’s best Britons by way of popular opinion for his achievements in the field of entrepreneurialism, his steadfast attempts at entering the book of Guinness World Records, and advancements he helped make in travel by land, air, sea, and space. A career path he started on at the age of sixteen, and not one he ever found himself off of, Branson is a shining example of success in Britain.
Branson is the public face for the flamboyant and fun billionaire, constantly being seen in the public eye as attempting to cross the Atlantic quickest on a Virgin yacht, acting as lead model in a wedding dress for his wedding and bridal wear retailer promotion campaign, sailing the Sex Pistols along the river Thames and having them play ‘God Save The Queen’ on the banks of Parliament, and leading the charge to commercial space travel. An entrepreneurial visionary, making the world of business work for him, and not the other way around.
Born Richard Charles Nicholas Branson on the 18th of July 1950 in Blackheath, London. Son to a former ballerina and flight attendant Eve, and barrister Edward James Branson, Richard grew up as the eldest of three siblings, with him being the only boy. As a young boy, Richard struggled with his studies both at school and at home. Later he became aware this stemmed from Richard having dyslexia, a learning difficulty that causes difficulty in the interpretation and spelling of words and symbols. In later years, Eve discovered that she lived with the difficulty as well.
Richard stayed in attendance of the Scaitcliffe school, an all-boys institution, until the age of thirteen where he had gotten drastically close to being failed from for his literacy and low attention skills. Following this, he transferred to a boarding school in Stowe, Buckinghamshire, where he stayed until he dropped out of the educational system at the age of sixteen.
Here is where the Richard Branson as we know him today was born, as after he had forgone with the trivialities of school he took to his very first business, in 1967, when he was merely seventeen years old. The aptly named Student magazine.
A magazine that Branson started to cover pop culture and the music of the day in his unique style and view, but to also give voice to young activists who were covering the global turmoils of the time like that of the Vietnam war, and the Nigerian Civil War in the region of Biafra. The magazine took special care in seeking out writers with differing views and opinions, on topics that needed more light cast upon them to enter the public eye. Branson gave the first issue out for free, covering the cost with the money that the magazine made from advertisements.
After the launch of the first issue on the 26th of January of 1968, the headmaster of Stowe School wrote to Branson to congratulate his former pupil by way prophecy. Saying that “you will either go to prison or become a millionaire”. Ever since this statement, Branson seems to have achieved both feats, and succeeded.
The magazine unfortunately failed due to low sales. Though its pages were filled with interview pieces and articles from some of the most prominent figures of the time, such as author and journalist James Cameron, poet Robert Graves, existential philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, social critic and essayist James Baldwin, and author Alice Walker, the publication did not have as much of a drawn audience to keep it afloat.
What kept Branson afloat was his idea to incorporate a mail order record advertisement in Student, selling vinyl at discount prices straight to your door. This idea went from being an added source of revenue to help the magazine, and turned into the next big, brave plan to follow. Using some of the money Student had made, and collecting up the staff that ran the magazine, Branson rented out an old shoe store at 24 Oxford Street, London, and opened the first Virgin Record Shop. The brand name Virgin, which has now become the name of Branson’s entrepreneurial empire, came from the collective staffs’ inexperience in the business world – Virgins to business.
Well on the way to fulfilling his old headmaster’s claimed prophecy of attaining millionaire status, Branson unwittingly started on a path to achieving the claim that he would end up behind bars. A twenty-one-year-old man, trying to make the most money he possibly could for himself and his staff, Branson ventured into the seldom fruitful world of tax evasion. One of the main reasons for this is that the store sold its records at such discount prices, it quickly became hard to financially keep up with stock and demand. So, in a last-ditch effort to keep the company going, Branson found a way to avoid paying purchase taxes (which at that point exceeded a 33% levy on domestic sales) by claiming that all albums were exported and not sold in the England (there was no such taxing of merchandise sold abroad).
As a young man who did not know how to cover his tracks, or how to well orchestrate tax fraud effectively, he was caught out quickly and arrested. Having not been the first person in the country to think up this plan, customs investigators and record label sales officials were hot on his case. Making sure to secretly mark records they sold to Virgin that were to be set for export, and buy the same items through the company’s mail order service were all the evidence needed for the investigators to warrant an arrest. After spending the night in jail, and his mother Eve posting his bail by way of the family home, Richard negotiated with the government a settlement of £60,000 on the terms that could he not pay them, he would be arrested and returned to jail for a longer period.
The authorities agreed with the terms of the settlement deal and Branson went back to business, sore from the experience with a better appreciation for his business accomplishments, and the rules that apply to them. This slap on the wrist was the wakeup call that Branson had needed, because up until that point he was only playing the game of business. Making up the rules and deciding which of the real ones best suited him. From that experience onward, he made up his rules and decided which ones applied to him – but within the confines of the law and good business practice.
Now in more debt than Virgin should have been at the time, Richard had to think on his feet to recuperate from the unlawful stint. In 1973, Branson came up with the idea of becoming the architect as well as the salesman of the records he and the staff enjoyed listening to, which he succeeded in doing by opening up Britain’s very first residential recording studio – in a manor house at Shipton-on-Cherwell, close by to Oxford. It was no time at all until such acts as Sandy Denny, Tangerine Dream, and John Cale starting showing up and taking recording slots.
Moulding the Virgin Record Shop brand into Virgin Records, Branson started signing artists to the label that he had created and by 1973 – with help of the publishing company that he had also started – he was ready to release the labels big four releases, including one of the biggest records of the decade; ‘Tubular Bells’ by Mike Oldfield. A song that went on to provide the soundtrack for ‘The Exorcist’, a cult horror film from the same year.
The success of that record opened the door to all kinds of musical talent that wanted to sign to Virgin Records and taste similar success. Though the real popularity for Virgin came about in 1977, when the label signed the Sex Pistols. The band that put punk and anarchy in U.K. on the map. In one of Branson’s famously flamboyant moments, he took the Sex Pistols onto a boat along the Thames river and had them perform as loudly as possible to “congratulate” the queen on her Silver Jubilee anniversary, directly across from the Houses of Parliament.
The Sex Pistols did not last very long as a unified group, but the label still retained a heavy roster of artists such as Steve Winwood, UB40, and the Rolling Stones. With all the wealth and popularity that Richard had accumulated, he had to use it wisely. So in 1978, to impress a girl, he bought Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands for $180,000. The bet paid off, and Branson ended up marrying Joan Templeman, and they live happily there to this day. Following the success of Virgin Records, Branson started to extend his resources into other interests, branch out in the world. The 1980’s were the decade that truly refined Virgin’s take on the world, and solidified its captain as one of the most influential businessmen of our time.
In the birth of the 80’s, Virgin started to launch company branches into as many industries as it could. Thirty companies flew the Virgin flag up until 1984, when the flagship of the Virgin empire was introduced; Virgin Airways. The airline offered the best in cross Atlantic flights, and remains leader of the pack to this day. Following the airline and cargo companies, in 1985 Virgin Holidays came into being, making the Virgin vacation an all-round experience – from the Boeing to the beach.
The Virgin Airship and Balloon Company became part of the aeronautical family in 1987, solidifying Virgins place in the skies. With the success of the 80’s, Branson and Virgin come into the 90’s wanting more and getting it. Selling Virgin Records as a branch to EMI, saving Virgin Atlantic from the edge of going bust, this move gave Atlantic the lift it needed, and Branson enough revenue to see out the decade of investments, starting a cola company, bridal wear sellers, gyms, and a radio station. Some of the investments did not pan out the way that Branson would have wanted, due to overwhelming competition, but as of the year 2000 and onwards things could not stop from looking up for Virgin.
The company have launched Virgin Money, Virgin Trains; their train system that can offer you travel from Manchester to London in just over two hours travel time, Virgin Mobile, a globally reaching mobile telephone service, television and broadband services, and Virgin Galactic – the company’s commercial space travel arm – just to name a few accomplishments.
Today, these companies have made Richard Branson an entrepreneur worth upwards of £5.4billion.
As well as his leaps and strides in the world of business, Branson has effectively made his mark in the global opinion’s hall of fame by way of the Guinness World Records. As a man who constantly broke barriers with his entrepreneurial skills, feeling a need to challenge himself to the limit never lessened. He has taken part in several world records attempts spanning from 1985 to present day.
His first try at fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat saw failure, then victory in 1986 by a clear record two hours faster than the previous holders. Branson broke the record for crossing the Pacific Ocean by hot air balloon a year later. In the years since, Branson has attempted many world records, and has broken quite a few. Most notably being his crossing of the English Channel by way of an amphibious vehicle, a Gibbs Aquada car he had repurposed for such a task. For his services to field of entrepreneurialism, Branson received a knighthood from Charles, the Prince of Wales. As well as everything that he has giving to entrepreneurship, Branson is an active philanthropist and strives to better the world’s climate change problems.
Richard still lives on Necker Island with his wife Joan. They have had two children together, daughter and son Holly and Sam, who help him out on the sailboat whenever he fancies breaking a new record.