Serial entrepreneur and self-promoter Sir Richard Branson is best known for his Virgin brand of more than 200 companies worldwide. Virgin businesses include mobile telephony, airlines, trains, financial services, leisure, music, holidays, publishing and retailing.
Branson was born in 1950 in Shamley Green in Surrey, the son of Ted, a lawyer, and Eve, a stewardess and trained glider pilot. His first business success was at the age of 16 as publisher of Student magazine.
Inspired by the magazine's success, in 1970 he founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer, expanding the business with the opening of a record shop in Oxford Street, London. Shortly after, he launched record label Virgin Records, which signed unconventional artists, such as the Sex Pistols and Mike Oldfield. Oldfield recorded Tubular Bells for Virgin in 1973 - an album which went on to be a best seller, selling 5 million copies.
Branson founded Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984, much to the horror of his directors at Virgin Records, which funded much of Virgin Atlantic's growth. Branson still rates Virgin Atlantic as one of his favourite enterprises.
Australian low-cost carrier Virgin Blue started regional operations in 2000.
Virgin acquired a 90% stake in European short-haul airline Euro Belgian Airlines in 1996 and renamed it Virgin Express. In 2006 the airline was merged with SN Brussels Airlines forming Brussels Airlines.
Virgin Nigeria started operations in 2005, from its base in Lagos to London and Johannesburg, in addition to regional services to destinations in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal.
Virgin America (see above picture with Fred Reid) began flying out of its San Francisco International Airport base in August 2007, after setbacks over funding and also Department of Transportation certification. Initial services were between New York JFK and San Francisco and between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Branson's enthusiasm for airlines continues, with a tie-up between Virgin and Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia X in August 2007 (pictured above with Tony Fernandes).
Branson's keys to business success:
- Core values that reflect public values, like quality service
- Value for money
- A sense of fun
Branson admits: "The odd bit of luck goes a long way. 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"
Virgin was voted the UK's most admired brand in 2007.
Richard Branson is well-known for self-publicity.
He has also appeared in television shows, including Friends and Baywatch, and a cameo appearance in James Bond film Casino Royale.
Branson says: "Branding is everything. If you get your face and your name out there enough, people will start to recognise you. A young girl once came up to me and told me I could be famous because I looked just like Richard Branson!".
In 1999 Branson received a knighthood for services to entrepreneurship.
In 1997, Branson entered the railway business with Virgin Trains.
Branson has also developed a Virgin Cola brand and a Virgin Vodka brand.
In 2004, Branson announced the signing of a deal under which Virgin Galactic will take passengers into suborbital space. Flights are expected by late 2009.