By George Paul
Last updated: Feb 15, 2023
Discover the business ventures that have made Sir Richard Branson a billionaire.
Sir Richard Branson has been an entrepreneur for most of his life, pursuing his first ventures as a teenager.
Born in London, Branson wasn’t much of a student as he was growing up. He battled dyslexia and received poor grades, prompting the headmaster of his school to tell him he’d either end up in jail or as a millionaire. Well, that headmaster was right, through Branson’s own entrepreneurial spirit he is now a certified billionaire with a private island and an empire that includes airlines, hotels, record labels, and more.
Branson, now well known for cheeky media stunts, got his start trying to grow and sell both Christmas trees and budgerigars (a type of parrot) but didn’t see success until he created a magazine called Student in 1966 (at the age of 16).
His magazine and the ensuing mail-order record business eventually led Branson to establish his own brick-and-mortar record store in 1971. The store did well and just a year later he was able to use the profits to create a record label called Virgin Records, kickstarting his Virgin-branded empire.
Keep reading to discover the business ventures that make Sir Richard Branson a billionaire.
Virgin Group is the umbrella company under which many of Richard Branson’s Virgin-branded ventures sit. The company has an interest in more than 60 businesses (including 49 that use the Virgin name), including commercial aviation, commercial spaceflight, radio, communications, a gym chain, and more. Sales from Virgin-branded businesses around the world are $23 billion annually.
The group also earns royalties by licensing its name, for instance, Virgin Mobile in the US is operated by Sprint (which is now owned by T-Mobile) while Virgin Media is a subsidiary of Liberty Global.
Below we have listed out a selection of Branson’s most prominent and interesting Virgin-branded businesses.
Virgin Atlantic is an international airline that is counted among the Virgin Group’s portfolio companies. Founded in 1984, the airline is now in part owned by Delta Air Lines, which took a 49% stake in 2012. The airline hasn’t been a significant moneymaker in recent years for Branson and has been hit hard by COVID-19. In 2020, the airline had to make several thousand job cuts and filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in the US as part of a recapitalization and debt restructuring plan.
Virgin Galactic is an aerospace company situated within the Virgin Group that aims to make commercial space flight a viable business. The company’s end goal is to provide suborbital spaceflights to tourists and suborbital launches for space science missions. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2019 and on March 30 2021 unveiled its second piloted space plane called VSS Imagine.
Around the world Virgin Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), meaning that it leases unused spectrum from established network operators (like Vodafone or T-Mobile) to provide subscribers with low-cost mobile phone coverage, as they don’t have to pay for the upkeep of cell towers or other infrastructure. Virgin Mobile branded wireless communications services are available in a host of countries including the UK, Ireland, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Poland, and South Africa.
First launched in 2010, Richard Branson’s hotel chain currently operates four US locations (Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, and San Francisco) but plans to expand to even more locations like Miami, New Orleans, New York, and Las Vegas in 2021 and 2022. The chain also plans to open its first international location in 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Headquartered in Plantation, Florida, Virgin Voyages is a joint venture between the Virgin Group and Bain Capital. The cruise line was founded in 2014 and conducted it first voyage in 2020. It now operates two vessels however its operations have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Virgin Group also oversees Virgin StartUp, a not-for-profit company that helps UK-based entrepreneurs to found and grow their own business. As of 2018, the organization has provided over £35m in pre-seed funding to more than 11,000 entrepreneurs.
Richard Branson is an investor in Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), an organization that invests in companies creating innovative technologies to help address climate change. Branson isn't alone in this venture as BEV is also backed by big names like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg. Gates established the fund in 2015 and now BEV has over $1 billion in committed capital to support companies like ZeroAvia, Boston Metal, c16 Biosciences, and more.
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