Richard Branson is a worldwide brand. Widely recognised by his boyish grin, floppy hair and trademark goatee. Educated at the elite Stowe School, Branson’s headmaster predicted that Richard would either become a millionaire or go to prison. A budding entrepreneur, by the age of 20 he had already founded and closed a national magazine, Student, which although contained interviews with the likes of Jagger didn’t make any money. His new company was a discount music record shop on Oxford Street in London. Popular, and with a growing mail-order business, the company was in debt due to its rock bottom prices. Branson named it Virgin due to him and his crew all being ‘virgins at business’.
Branson figured out a way to alter his turnover with Virgin avoiding paying purchase tax on its merchandise. He would do this by pretending to export albums which were actually sold in England. Richard would drive a large shipment of discs to Belgium, get his papers stamped at Dover and then return with the goods to sell. He figured it would just take a few trips to become debt free. However, customs officials became suspicious after an EMI employee suggested skulduggery. Customs consequently marked the EMI records that Branson was buying to export with an invisible ink. They purchased some records via Virgin’s mail order service and the ink marked merchandise duly arrived. A raid on Mr Richard Branson was afoot.
Yet Branson was tipped off the night before, which saw him buy a sunlamp to reveal the markings. Virgin hauled the loot out of the warehouse and into the Oxford Street store’s racks. Their chronic naivety was in not realising that Customs have greater powers than the police.
Branson was detained overnight until his mother posted bail for his release. In severe debt, he negotiated a settlement with the government of £60k (over half a million today) that would result in a trial if he couldn’t deliver. Newly fixated on a rigid accounting system, Virgin used every penny made to buy a further shop, and then did it again. A record label was then born, which resulted in the release of many iconic 80’s albums. Branson sold out to a huge profit in ’92.
His Virgin empire grew to incorporate airlines, trains, a mobile phone service and an island. His adventurous streak remains with a few folded businesses to date, together with a failed hot air balloon mission but it’s doubtful he cares. Richard Branson is in the midst of planning a space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. Undoubtedly the almighty Branson will get this off the ground in the not too distant future…