SIR RICHARD BRANSON
Richard Branson was born in 1950 and educated at Stowe School, where he established a national magazine called Student at the age of 16 and started a Student Advisory Center at 17 to help young people. In 1970 he founded Virgin as a mail-order record retailer and shortly thereafter opened a record shop in Oxford Street, London. In 1972 a recording studio was built in Oxfordshire, where the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded "Tubular Bells," which was released in 1973.
The first album of the newly created Virgin Records went on to sell over 5 million copies, and over the years many household names, including Belinda Carlisle, Genesis, Phil Collins, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones, helped make Virgin Music one of the top six record companies in the world. The equity of Virgin Music Group – record labels, music publishing and recording studios – was sold to THORN EMI in 1992 in a billion-dollar deal.
The interests of Virgin Group have now expanded into international "Megastore" music retailing, the Internet, book and software publishing, film and video editing facilities, clubs, travel, hotels and cinemas through over 100 companies in 23 countries.
Virgin Atlantic Airways, formed in 1984, is now the second-largest British long-haul international airline. It operates a fleet of Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft to 25 locations around the world, including New York, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Johannesburg and the Caribbean. Founded on the concept of offering a competitive and high quality Upper Class and Economy service, Virgin Atlantic has won the Airline of the Year Award several times and holds many other major awards.
In 1997 Virgin took over Britain’s two most run-down rail franchises and engaged in a £2-billion fleet replacement program to create one of the most modern rail networks in the world. The combined sales of the different Virgin holding companies exceeded £3.5 billion in 1999.
In addition to his own business activities, Branson is a trustee of several charities, including the Healthcare Foundation. His help in the initial funding of Charity Projects helped that organization to raise over £27 million in 1989 alone through campaigns such as Comic Relief.
Since 1985, Branson has been involved in a number of world-record-breaking attempts. In 1986 his boat Virgin Atlantic Challenger II rekindled the spirit of the Blue Riband trophy by crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest time ever recorded. This feat was followed a year later by the epic hot-air balloon crossing of the same ocean in "Virgin Atlantic Flyer," which was not only the first hot-air balloon to cross the Atlantic, but, at 2.3 million cubic feet capacity, was the largest ever flown. It reached speeds in excess of 130 miles per hour (209 k/ph).
In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Arctic Canada, the distance of 6,700 miles again breaking all existing records with speeds of up to 245 miles per hour, in a balloon of 2.6 million cubic feet. Between 1995 and 1998, Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett (who joined the team after the sad death of Alex Ritchie) made a number of attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. In late 1998 they made a record-breaking flight from Morocco to Hawaii, but their dream of a global flight was shattered by bad weather before a Swiss team successfully circumnavigated the globe in early 1999.
In December 1999 Branson was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s millennium New Years honors list for “services to entrepreneurship”.
Branson currently lives in London and Oxfordshire. He is married with two children.