Richard was the first born of Edward and Eve Branson – born on July 18, 1950 in Blackheath, London. His father was a barrister, having followed his father, a judge at the High Court of Justice, into the legal realm. Eve had been a professional ballerina who became a flight attendant, but was always an entrepreneur at her core. It likely cannot be proven that her entrepreneurial spirit was passed on to her son, but he certainly possessed the same drive.
Richard struggled throughout school due to dyslexia – a condition not fully understood at the time. When he was sixteen-years-old, he dropped out of boarding school in Buckinghamshire and began his first business. Student was a magazine he created to appeal to the youth culture. He sold the equivalent of US$8,000 in advertising for his first edition which allowed him to distribute 50,000 copies at no charge. At seventeen, Richard started a Student Advisory Center to help young people deal with a variety of issues.
Music was a major component of the culture and Richard determined that he could start a mail-order music company as a means to fund his publication. That effort brought in enough revenue to allow him to open a retail record store on Oxford Street. In turn, the success of that business allowed him to buy a country estate in Oxford where he built a recording studio which he named The Manor Studio.
Not only did Richard rent the studio to some as yet unknown bands – he started his own record label. Mike Oldfield was the first artist to have a record released and it was an instant mega-hit. After becoming an international hit, Tubular Bells would stay on the charts in the United Kingdom for 247 weeks. That success led to Richard signing other groups – The Sex Pistols, Peter Gabriel, The Rolling Stones, Steve Winwood and Culture Club. Those artists and others built the record label into one of the top six recording companies in the world.
Richard’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to diversify. Deciding to enter the travel industry, he created the Voyager group in 1980. Through the decade, the travel group launched multiple airlines while the music group opened a series of megastores. By the 1992, the company was in dire financial shape – so much so that Richard sold the company for US$1 billion. Selling the business brought an enormous sum – but at an even more enormous cost. Having to sell the company he started as a school dropout was so devastating to Richard he sobbed. To him, it was like losing a child.
Richard, ever the entrepreneur, was not about to let that be the end of his ventures. He started a radio station in 1993 and started a new record company in 1996. Over the next twenty years, Richard’s continued his music and travel business. He also branched out into a wide array of other sectors including health, leisure, banking and telecommunications. Today, his business conglomerate includes hundreds of companies and his net worth is estimated at over five billion dollars. Queen Elizabeth II decided to confer the honor of Knight Bachelor on him for his “services to entrepreneurship” and he was knighted by Charles, Prince of Wales on 30 March 2000.
Results as extraordinary as these could only result from Sir Richard Branson being a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are daring, dream big and aren’t afraid to fail
Sir Richard Branson named his first company Virgin when an employee commented that everyone involved was new to business. His mail order record business has evolved into the Virgin Group, a truly massive conglomerate. Richard Branson is the heart and soul of Virgin. It’s his drive, energy, philosophy and zest which defines Virgin as a company.
Branson plays with the same enthusiasm and daring that identifies his business efforts. He has achieved several record breaking feats including the fastest ever Atlantic Ocean crossing, a series of hot air balloon adventures and kitesurfing across the English Channel. In 2004, he hosted a reality show called The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best. Fourteen contestants had to succeed in high-risk challenges before showing their entrepreneurial abilities. Most recently he has launched Virgin Galactic, a company devoted to space tourism.
What truly drives Branson is his overriding belief that “This can be better” – regardless of what ‘this’ might be. The music business? – it can be better. The airline industry? – we can improve it. Telecommunication, train transport, education, personal adventure – nothing is excluded from being improved in Branson’s view. It’s a combination of optimism, creativity, challenge and desire.
Beginning with his Student Assistance Center, Branson’s businesses have had a purpose beyond profit. He was the founding member of International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He’s active in efforts to fight global warming, has started Virgin Startup and The Branson School of Entrepreneurship, supports the Global Zero campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons and has chaired the UN Broadband Commission to promote universal access to broadband internet.
Sir Richard Branson is a genuinely down-to-earth person who doesn’t care for pomp and circumstance. His commitment to being casual is exemplified by his aversion to wearing ties. There’s so much to learn about branding – and life – from this dynamic and charming man.
Be Daring – A quote from his book Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School Branson writes “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.” Branson pursues his business and life in the same daring manner. To be daring builds bravery. It’s his premise that one must be brave to be successful in life and business. Want a fearless brand? Be daring.
Be authentic – Branson is nothing if not authentic and, in turn, unique. There’s no long-term benefit in striving to be something that you’re not. It can’t get any clearer than that. Be authentic – be yourself.
Embrace your dreams, do what excites you – Call it passion, purpose, your why, drivers, motivators, satisfiers – the title doesn’t matter. Discover what drives you. Be open to your dreams. Combine the two. It may not happen quickly. It’s certainly a simple concept, although it’s definitely not easy. If you can do so successfully, you’re guaranteed to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Give – You’ll often hear the phrase ‘Give back’. It’s more simple than that – just give. As Branson says, you need to have a purpose beyond profit. Branson is quick to point out that giving doesn’t need to be financial – give something as simple as a smile. Give people respect – listen, care, appreciate them. If you want to build a fearless brand and achieve the success that you desire – be a giver.
Richard Branson is a unique person, he doesn’t fit the mold of a typical billionaire. He is kind, caring, giving and charming. He’s also tenacious, determined and purposeful. Chances are you, nor I, will be worth $5 billion. However, we can learn from Richard Branson. “It can be better!” Whatever it is that you face. Branson teaches us how to live a successful life, how to be a fearless brand and how to have fun.