Founder and chairman of the Virgin group of companies that includes Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is the driving force at the center of a web of more than 200 companies employing more than eight thousand people in twenty-six countries. His web of interest in travel, retail, hotels, consumer goods, financial services, computer games, radio, television, cinema, and publishing makes Branson a regular entry into Forbes magazine’s lists of the richest people in the world.
In 1970, the twenty-year-old Branson founded Virgin Mail Order Records and shortly thereafter opened a record shop in Oxford Street, London. He established his own record label, Virgin Records, in 1973, building a recording studio in Oxfordshire, where the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded Tubular Bells (1973). Another Virgin act, the Rolling Stones, helped make Virgin Records one of the top six record companies in the world.
In 1984, Branson became the majority backer of an airline he renamed Virgin Atlantic Airways. An upstart in a fiercely competitive field of established carriers, Virgin Atlantic eventually became the second-largest British long-haul international airline, with a fleet of Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft flying routes to New York, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Athens, and Tokyo. The airline is founded on the concept of offering competitive, high-quality upper class and economy service. It holds many major awards, including several Airline of the Year awards from Executive Travel Magazine.
Since 1985, Branson has been involved in a number of world record-breaking attempts. In 1986 he and a teammate made the fastest ever-recorded crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in his powerboat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II. A year later, Branson crossed the Atlantic with Swedish aeronaut Per Lindstrand in the hot-air balloon Virgin Atlantic Flyer, which was not only the first hot-air balloon to cross the Atlantic but also the largest ever flown, at 2.3 million cubic feet. The two men crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1991. Branson has also been a member of three teams that made unsuccessful attempts at transglobal hot-air balloon flights during the late 1990’s. On the third attempt, in December, 1998, the team traveled 8,200 miles (13,200 kilometers), becoming the first hot-air balloonists to cross the entire Asian continent.
A child of a revolutionary 1960’s, Branson has forged a unique synthesis of the youth revolution’s values and the needs of a modern business. He captivates the public and employees by the unexpected prospect of making the gray world of work come alive with fun, excitement, and challenge.
Branson, Richard. Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way. London: Virgin, 1998. Branson’s memoir about his business and aviation exploits. Burger, William. “Up, Up, and Away.” Newsweek 123, no. 24 (June 13, 1994). An article about Branson’s balloon flights. Conniff, Richard. “Balloon Challenge.” National Geographic 192, no. 3 (September, 1997). A well-illustrated article about Branson’s attempts at transglobal balloon flight.