Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Richard Branson - The Rebel Billionaire

Born in England in 1950, he was an entrepreneur from the start. With two failed endeavors (growing Christmas trees and raising budgerigars) already under his belt, by the age of 16, this serial entrepreneur had begun his first successful company (a student magazine) and was on his way to extraordinary success. By the age of 20, he had founded a small mail order record retailer called Virgin, and shortly thereafter, he opened a record shop on Oxford Street in London.
Virgin Tops the Charts: By 1972, Virgin had signed their first artist, Mike Oldfield. 5 million copies later, Virgin Music had made a name for itself, later signing household names such as the Sex Pistols, Culture Club, The Rolling Stones, Phil Collins, Genesis, and Janet Jackson. Crafty yet controversial, provocative yet memorable, Virgin was soon to be a world renowned brand name.
Virgin in the Air: Formed in 1984, Virgin Atlantic Airways was profitable in its first year. Its three classes of service - Economy, Premium Economy and Upper Class – include free in-flight drinks and meals, often including ice cream, and seat-back personal TVs, which was pioneered by Virgin. Upper Class passengers can request complimentary limousine service to and from the airport and have access to Virgin’s Clubhouse Lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport, where massage and grooming services are available.
Other Virgin Conquests: With an appetite for broken industries, Virgin has continued to diversify its interests. In 1997, Virgin attempted to redefine the railway industry with high-tech trains and an advanced level of service. In another move, the company launched Virgin Mobile. Appealing to the younger demographic, the company does not require contracts and puts a hip spin on the traditional cell phone business. Virgin even has its own soft drink and vodka, although neither has been a tremendous success.
And Finally, the Coolest Virgin Endeavor: At $200,000 a pop, Virgin Galactic plans to take customers into suborbital space, offering customers the chance to experience weightlessness for seven minutes on a scaled up version of SpaceShipOne. Richard Branson and some of his closest family members will be on the inaugural flight some time in 2008.
The Thrill-Seeker: Richard Branson has attempted several world record-breaking feats. In 1986, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a boat, in the fastest recorded time ever. The following year, he crossed the Atlantic in the Virgin Atlantic Flyer at speeds in excess of 130 mph. In 1991, at speeds of up to 245 mph, he crossed the Pacific, traveling 6,700 miles. Finally, in 1998, he made a record-breaking flight trying to circumnavigate the Earth that was cut short by bad weather, traveling from Morocco to Hawaii.
Philanthropy: Having started his first charity at the age of 17, Richard has continued to be generous throughout his life. He is currently a trustee of multiple charities, including the Virgin Healthcare Foundation, a charity focused on AIDS and health education. Most recently, he pledged $3 billion over the next ten years to fight global warming in which he will invest all profits from his train and airline divisions in renewable or clean energy initiatives.
Luck or Skill?: Benjamin Franklin once said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." This surely holds true for Sir Richard Branson, who has worked tirelessly throughout his career. Even Sir Richard Branson himself agrees and has been quoted as saying, "We were lucky to sign Mike Oldfield and we were lucky to get hold of the Sex Pistols in 1977. We've also been lucky that people liked Virgin Atlantic's unique airline service across the Atlantic, and I was lucky to survive all my balloon and boat trips!" So, it is probably some combination of the two, but without skill, all the luck in the world would not result in one of Sir Richard Branson's greatest accomplishments – knighthood.

As impressive as his portfolio, his bank accounts, and his list of accomplishments may be, though, perhaps Branson's greatest accomplishment is in creating an absolutely fabulous life for himself. He travels the world, spending winter holidays with his fmaily at his South African game preserve and summers at his private island in the Caribbean. As he put it in a 2003 interview with Fortune, "I don't think of work as work and play as play. It's all living."

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