How Did Richard Branson Make His Fortune?

Sir Richard Branson is the flamboyant entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand, which began with Virgin Records in 1972. The tycoon is the founder and chair of the Virgin Group, which employs over 60,000 people in 35 countries through its 40-plus companies.

Branson's companies include or have included airlines, wireless communications, radio stations, hotels, health clubs, financial services businesses, the nightclub Heaven, renewable technologies, a Formula One team, and even a space tourism company. As of June 2022, the 71-year old Branson's net worth stood at an estimated $4 billion, according to Forbes.

Here is a brief look at how the fun-loving Branson grew his Virgin mega-brand and became one of the wealthiest and most successful people in the world.

Key Takeaways

  • Sir Richard Branson is a 71-year old entrepreneur whose net worth stands at an estimated $4 billion.
  • Branson founded his first magazine at 16 and owns or has owned airlines, record labels, radio stations, hotels, and many other companies.
  • Highlights include airline Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Records, the label that was home to the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, and others.
  • In 2001, his company teamed with Sprint to launch Virgin Mobile.

The 1960s

Richard Branson started at age 16 with his magazine, called Student, which interviewed celebrities and sold almost $8,000 worth of advertising for the first issue. The teenager dropped out of school to promote his magazine. In 1969, he started a mail-order record business that used the magazine office as an operating base. Branson and his team of 20 employees called the new business Virgin.

The 1970s

In 1970, Branson launched Virgin Mail Order Records. After a rocky start, he grew to own 14 record stores by 1972. He used the profits from his record store chain to found music label Virgin Records in 1972, and he earned his first million dollars in 1973 when Virgin recording artist Mike Oldfield sold over 5 million copies of his record, "Tubular Bells."

Part of Branson's early success at Virgin Records came as a result of his willingness to sign the Sex Pistols and other controversial artists. Other popular Virgin acts included The Rolling Stones and Ozzy Osbourne. By the end of the decade, Virgin Music had become one of the top six record companies in the world, with branches in Germany, France, and Japan.

In 1979, Branson purchased Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands for $180,000.

The 1980s

Virgin Books and Virgin Video were born in 1981. Within two years, Branson's business empire included more than 50 different companies with combined sales of more than $17 million.

In 1984, Branson paired with lawyer Randolph Fields to start one of his most famous companies yet, Virgin Atlantic. The airline took off (pardon the pun) due to its fine customer service and innovative in-flight comforts, such as free ice cream, seat-back video screens, and in-flight massages.

The 1990s

In 1992, Branson reluctantly sold Virgin Records for $1 billion in order to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat. These were tumultuous years for Virgin Atlantic. Terrorist attacks kept people from flying, and larger rival British Airways engaged in what Branson called "a hostile campaign designed to cause permanent damage to Virgin."

Branson successfully sued British Airways for libel, with a judge ruling in 1993 that British Airways pay Branson and Virgin $945,000 in damages, plus legal fees estimated at around $3 million, and deliver an apology. In 1997, Branson started Virgin Trains.

He became Sir Richard Branson in 2000, and Time magazine named him as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world in 2007.

The 2000s

In 2001, Virgin Group launched Virgin Mobile as a joint venture with Sprint. In 2020, Sprint shutdown Virgin Mobile and transferred users to Boost Mobile.

In September 2004, Branson turned his eyes to the sky again and joined forces with Burt Rutan, an American aeronautical engineer, to launch Virgin Galactic, with licensed spacecraft that would take tourists to space. Branson had a vision of providing cheap space tourism. An unfortunate series of events, including a crash in 2014, rerouted the date of the first commercial space flights. In 2021, they had their first successful, fully-crewed spaceflight. As of 2022, Branson had signed up 800 clients.

601

Sir Richard Branson's current rank on Forbes' billionaire list.

Branson actually has four space-focused companies now. In addition to Virgin Galactic, Virgin also operates Virgin Orbit for cargo, VOX for government missions, and the Spaceship Company, which as the name implies, builds spaceships.

Branson launched social activist projects that included Virgin Unite to combat HIV and AIDS, and the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship to teach entrepreneurial skills in developing countries.

How High Did Richard Branson Go?

Richard Branson reached the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane in July 2021. The plane, known as Unity, reached a height of 53.5 miles, or 282,480 feet.

How Much Is Richard Branson Worth?

Richard Branson has a net worth of $4 billion, according to Forbes. However, according to Bloomberg, Branson has a net worth of $5.65 billion.

How Is Richard Branson a Billionaire?

Most of Richard Branson’s wealth comes from his Virgin Group, which is an investment company that includes more than 40 businesses. Specifically, much of his wealth is tied to Virgin Enterprises—his brand licensing company—and his 75% stake in the satellite company Virgin Orbit.

The Bottom Line

Branson attributes his success to luck, speed, and hard work that included nights and weekends. His books and biographies cite his daredevil ideas, originality, willingness to buck norms, and persistence. Branson never allowed inexperience to discourage him from being a dynamic and daring entrepreneur. In fact, he named his company Virgin because he and his employees were all new to the business.

His extraordinary service to his employees and clients rated him as the United Kingdom's celebrity dream boss in an opinion poll by Cancer Research U.K. His philanthropy earned him accolades as the most admired business owner over the past five decades in The Sunday Times in 2014.

Article Sources
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  4. J.D. Rockefeller. "The Flamboyant Life of Richard Branson," Page 2. J.D. Rockefeller, 2016.

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  8. J.D. Rockefeller. "The Flamboyant Life of Richard Branson," Page 3. J.D. Rockefeller, 2016.

  9. Shirley Raye Redmond. "Richard Branson: Virgin Megabrand Mogul," Pages 21-22. Cengage Learning, 2011.

  10. Richard Branson. "How I Bought Necker Island."

  11. Shirley Raye Redmond. "Richard Branson: Virgin Megabrand Mogul," Page 23. Cengage Learning, 2011.

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  13. Virgin Group. "1992."

  14. Chicago Tribune. "British Airway to Pay for 'Dirty Tricks.'"

  15. Virgin Group. "1996."

  16. National Portrait Gallery. “Sir Richard Branson.”

  17. Time. "The 2007 Time 100: Richard Branson."

  18. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “United States of America et al., Plaintiffs, v. Deutsche Telekom AG, T-Mobile US, Inc., Softbank Group Corp., and Sprint Corporation,” Page 2.

  19. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “Amendment No. 7 to Form S-1 Registration Statement: Virgin Mobile USA, Inc.,” Page F-7.

  20. BurtRutan “Biography.”

  21. National Transportation Safety Board. “In-Flight Breakup During Test Flight Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo, N339SS Near Koehn Dry Lake, California October 31, 2014,” Page 9.

  22. Virgin Galactic. “Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight.”

  23. Virgin Galactic. “Virgin Galactic Announces First Quarter 2022 Financial Results.”

  24. Virgin Orbit. “Introducing Our Next Mission: Above the Clouds.”

  25. Virgin Orbit. “Entrepreneur. Adventurer. Visionary.”

  26. Virgin Unite. "Welcome to Virgin Unite."

  27. Virgin Unite. "What Does the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean Do?"

  28. Bloomberg. "Richard Branson - Bloomberg Billionaires Index."

  29. Cancer Research UK. "Branson Beats Obama as Celebrity Dream Boss."

  30. The Sunday Times. "Revealed: Our Most Admired Business Leader over 50 Years."

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