How Richard Branson Built His Empire


With his Virgin Group controlling over 400 companies, and his huge donations to philanthropic causes, it’s easy to see why Sir Richard Branson was named to BBC’s, 100 Greatest Britons List. Now, at age 67, the Blackheath native shows no signs of slowing down. But how did Branson get to where he is? Today, Ignitia takes a closer look at how Sir Richard Branson built his empire.

Birth of an Empire

As a child growing up in London, Branson was inflicted with a learning disability. On his last day of school, his headmaster famously told Branson he’d either, ‘End up in prison or become a millionaire’. From a young age, Branson had an entrepreneurial spirit. While in school, Branson started a magazine called, Student.

After graduating in 1970, Branson became frustrated by the high price of records sold in London’s stores. As a result, he started his own record company called, Virgin. The company sold records at a fraction of the price through mail-order. The name came from the fact that Branson and all his employees were virgins at business. One year later in 1971, Virgin was successful enough to open its own brick-and-mortar shop in London. The shop did well, but later that same year Branson was hit with a judgment against the business for unpaid taxes. The ruling forced his mother to mortgage her home to pay the balance. Able to stay in business, the record store thrived. Soon, Branson opened eleven more locations. This allowed Branson to take a loan out against the company to buy a manor home he then converted into a state-of-the-art recording studio called, The Manor.

Moving into Music

In May of 1973, Branson launched his very own record label, Virgin Records. The label thrived so much so that by 1975, Branson attempted to sign The Rolling Stones. While the label still needed some maturing before signing such a major act, Virgin Recods was able to sign other big names from the burgeoning 70’s British scene including The Sex Pistols, Peter Gabriel, UB40, and Steve Winwood. Eventually, with the success of managing so many artists the english native Rolling Stones finally got onboard as well.

The Airline Business

The record business went exceptionally well for Branson. So much so that in 1984, he was able to invest in an airline that would eventually become, Virgin Atlantic Airlines. At the time, Branson operated on the philosophy that either a business would become successful within the first year of his involvement, or he would exit. Luckily for his new airline however, within its first year of operation Virgin Atlantic became profitable. But it was not all smooth skies.

The airline was a direct competitor to British Airways in long-haul trips to the U.S. And British Airways was no slouch competitor. After years of fierce competition and expensive legal battles with British Airways, in 1992, reportedly with tears in his eyes, Branson was forced to sell Virgin Records to keep the airline afloat. The price of the sale netted Branson a cool $1 billion. But he had sold the company that started it all.

Growing Further

Since then, Branson has managed to continue to build an empire. In 1999, riding high off his airline success, Branson founded cellular carrier, Virgin Mobile. And in 2004, he announced the formation of his Virgin Galactic space tourism company. Today, Virgin Galactic has already signed up over 500 customers willing to pay $200,000 a piece for a trip to the outer reaches of earth’s atmosphere.

Giving It Back

But above all else, today Branson values his efforts put toward furthering his philanthropic causes. In 2013, Branson announced he’d joined the Giving Pledge, an organization founded by fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to encourage other billionaires to give away half of their fortunes. At the time, Branson’s fortune was listed at an estimated $4 billion. Today Branson’s net worth sits at a reported, $5 billion. So far, Branson has participated in or given to over 35 charities.

In a recent article, Branson was quoted as saying, “’Stuff’ really is not what brings happiness. Family, friends, good health and the satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference are what really matters.” All told, Branson plans to give away at least $3 billion of his fortune to philanthropic causes.