Business magnate and founder of Virgin, Richard Branson, is now preparing to send members of the public to space (for a pretty penny!). Is he self-made?
It is thought that Richard Branson is debatably self-made since he benefited from supportive and financially secure parents. Branson started a magazine business when he was 16. He used the profits to open a record store. However, in 1971, he was questioned by police about selling “export only” records. He was not charged after paying the 33% tax and a £70,000 fine, for which his parents re-mortgaged their house to help pay. He then went on to found Virgin.
Learn more about how Richard Branson made his millions
The Beginnings of Richard Branson
Richard Branson was born on July 18, 1950, in Blackheath, London. His mother was a ballet dancer and air hostess, and his father a barrister.
Branson received a private education from prestigious boarding schools, until he dropped out aged 16, from Stowe School.
He performed poorly at school, partly down to his dyslexia. On his final day at school, the headmaster told Branston: You will either go to prison or become a millionaire.
Branson’s parents supported their son’s entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. His mother had made successful business ventures in the past, including selling wooden bins and tissue boxes.
Branson began businesses growing and selling Christmas trees and parakeets, but both failed. He then launched a Student, in 1966—a celebrity and popular culture magazine. The first issue was published in early 1968. One year later, Branson had a net worth estimated at £50,000.
With his funds, he started a mail-order record business. Still owning Student, he would advertise popular records in the magazine to boost his record sales.
Branson was then able to rent a shop on busy shopping street—Oxford Street—where he continued his record business.
He ran into a spot of trouble in 1971. Police questioned him in connection with sales of records that were deemed “export only” stock.
Fortunately Branson never had to appear in court, since he paid the necessary 33% tax and a huge fine of £70,000 (around $1,300,000 in today’s money).
Fortunately for Branson, his parents agreed to remortgage their home in order to help pay the settlement. Without this help, it’s likely that Branson would have gone to prison and/or been made bankrupt.
The Start of Virgin
Branson started the record label Virgin Records, in 1972, with friend Nik Powell. An employee suggested the name “Virgin,” since they were all new to the business world.
Branson then purchased a country estate near Oxford, which became the label’s recording studio. The label’s first release was the debut album Tubular Bells from Mike Oldfield, which reached number 1 in the UK.
Virgin was willing to sign more controversial bands than other labels, such as the Sex Pistols. Other artists included the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, XTC, Japan, UB40, Steve Winwood and Paula Abdul.
Virgin Records became the largest independent record label worldwide. By 1979, Branson had a net worth estimated to be £5 million.
Branson was traveling to Puerto Rico when his flight was canceled, leaving him and hundreds of other passengers stranded at the airport, with no alternative flights.
He managed to find a chartered plane and charged the other passengers $39 to rebook their flight, in order to cover costs.
Other Business Ventures
Needing funds for his airline company, Branson sold the Virgin record label for £500 million, in 1992. In 1997, Branson founded Virgin Rail Group.
He also started other businesses such as a telecoms company, hotels, and healthcare.
In 2004, he announced Virgin Galactic, which plans to take paying customers into space, although the company has yet to transport passengers above terra firma.