Richard Branson

Richard BransonPerhaps one of the most recognizable business luminaries in the world, in 1999 Richard Branson was knighted for his “services to entrepreneurship”. The Rebel Billionaire continues to grow the Virgin brand worldwide, and his unconventional strategies are an inspiration to businesses and individuals alike.

Richard Branson was born in 1950 and educated at Stowe School. It was here that he began to set up Student Magazine when he was just 16. By 17 he’d also set up Student Advisory Centre, which was a charity to help young people.

In 1970 he founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer, and not long after he opened a record shop in Oxford Street, London. During 1972 a recording studio was built in Oxfordshire, and the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded “Tubular Bells” which was released in 1973.

Since then many household names, including Belinda Carlisle, Genesis, Phil Collins, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones have helped to 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 US$1billion deal.

The Virgin Group has now expanded into international music Megastores, air travel, mobile, financial, retail, music, internet, drinks, rail, hotels and leisure, with around 200 companies in over 30 countries.

Richard has been involved in a number of world record-breaking attempts since 1985. In 1986 his boat, “Virgin Atlantic Challenger II” rekindled the spirit of the Blue Riband by crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest ever recorded time. This was followed a year later by the epic hot air balloon crossing of the same ocean in “Virgin Atlantic Flyer”. This was not only the first hot-air balloon to cross the Atlantic, but was the largest ever flown at 2.3 million cubic feet capacity, reaching speeds in excess of 130 miles per hour (209 km/h).

Still after the ultimate adventure, in January 1991 Richard crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Arctic Canada, the furthest distance of 6,700 miles. Again, he broke all existing records, with speeds of up to 245 miles -per hour in a balloon of 2.6 million cubic feet.

On 25 September 2004, Branson announced the signing of a deal under which a new space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, will license the technology behind Spaceship One—funded by Microsoft co-Founder Paul Allen and designed by legendary American aeronautical engineer and visionary Burt Rutan—to take paying passengers into suborbital space. Virgin Galactic (wholly owned by Virgin Group) plans to make flights available to the public by late 2009 with tickets priced at US$200,000.

Branson’s next venture with the Virgin group is Virgin Fuels, which is set to respond to global warming and exploit the recent spike in fuel costs by offering a revolutionary, cheaper fuel for automobiles and, in the near future, aircraft.

On 9 February 2007, Branson announced the setting up of a new Global science and technology prize, The Virgin Earth Challenge, which will award $25 million to the individual or group who are able to demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least ten years without countervailing harmful effects. This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate. Branson also announced that he would be joined in the adjudication of the Prize by a panel of five judges—all world authorities in their respective fields: Al Gore, Sir Crispin Tickell, Tim Flannery, Jim Hansen and James Lovelock. The panel of judges will be assisted in their deliberations by The Climate Group and Special Advisor to The Virgin Earth Prize Judges, Steve Howard.

Branson has been tagged as a “transformational leader”, with his maverick strategies and his stress on the Virgin Group as an organization driven on informality and information, one that is bottom-heavy rather than strangled by top-level management.

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