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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

A business has to be fun and it has to exercise your creative instincts...

If becoming a self-made and self-taught entrepreneur at 16, when millions of others do not even know the right place to land their feet, starting a magazine despite earlier attempts at business failing, and making a success of it, and then trying his hands at many other businesses like selling records by mail-order, starting a chain of records stores and, eventually, a recording studio and a label brand – all this even before one was 25, are very good accomplishments for a school drop-out, then read-on as to why Richard Branson is known for more than the riches he has earned.

Early Days

Richard (born July 1950, London), the son and eldest child of barrister Edward James Branson and Eve Huntley Branson, had his schooling from the Scaitcliffe School (now Bishops gate School) until the age of thirteen, and by the time he left Stowe School at the age of sixteen, he knew exactly what his calling was. It was scripted, perhaps, that the entrepreneur in him decided to surface above the student, and who dictated that life in general, and business in particular, was the best education he could get. So, he quit school and started to look for some enterprising activity that would earn him some bucks as well as satiate his desire for business activity.

He did not give-in when his early enterprise, so to say, of growing and selling Christmas trees did not quite take-off like he had wished. Instead, he started a magazine named 'Student' with all the energy and zeal he could put in and released its first issue in January 1966.

The Success that Sparked it all

What Branson would have done if 'Student' had not succeeded, we cannot say for sure. But given his enterprising nature, evident through much of his later life, we can presume that he would have tried his hands at just about anything that had an element of business and challenge in it. However, 'Student' did the trick for him and its success egged him on to explore further into the world of business.

The entrepreneur had arrived and he wasn't going to sit quite and let things happen all by themselves. Thus, by 1970, he began selling records by mail-order and opened his first record shop the following year (Mike Oldfield, the first Virgin artist, recorded 'Tubular Bells). Subsequently, he opened a recording studio (Virgin recording Studio) and launched a record label (Virgin Records) in the next two years. In the five years that followed, Virgin had been able to make a presence in the music industry. In fact, Branson began the series of changes that led to large-scale discounting of recorded music.

Success, Success, and more Success

After tasting so many successes in such little time, one would have expected him to take it a little slow. But Branson, the ever-enterprising youth who had a tendency to think and do unusual things, did not stop with those handful of successes. As was his won't, he diversified and ventured into other business that reflected his keen sense of business. This exploration began with the purchase of the gay nightclub 'Heaven,' located under the Charing Cross railway station, in 1979 (It was eventually sold in 2003 to a private buyer). Further, it was time for his brand to go international, which he ensured by taking Virgin Records beyond shore in 1980, and followed it up with yet another purchase – that of the Kensington Roof Gardens in 1981.

As the business and expansion started to grow and excel, Branson set about the consolidation mode of the Group. Virgin Vision (later to become Virgin Communications) was formed to distribute films and videos in the television and broadcasting sector, which also launched a 24-hour satellite music station called, "MusicBox" a year later, during which Virgin Games was also launched. Then came 1984: one of the defining years in the history of the group as it saw the launch of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin cargo. By 1985, the Virgin Group included record labels, retail outlets, exported music publishing, broadcasting, satellite television, and film and video distribution.

Branson fostered furthermore expansion and diversification in 1985 by starting Virgin Holidays and then taking Virgin Records to the United States in 1987. This year also saw him orchestrate the Group's alliance with Granada, Anglia and Pearson to found BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) and receive a UK license to broadcast five new TV channels by satellite in the UK.

The diversification extended further to work on high-end commercials and pop videos (525, a post production facility in Los Angeles), post-production (Rushes Postproduction), independent production of music programs, and creating, marketing and distributing computer games software and sega consoles (through Mastronic) in Europe.

In 1987, Branson took flight into a new sphere altogether when Virgin launched the Virgin Airship & Balloon Company, and also explored promotion of condoms to young adults (Mates condoms, UK). It wasn't as if he went on a mad buying-spree. He had the business acumen to spot an opportunity to make profits, irrespective of whether it was buying or selling, evident in the sale of some of the Group's smaller UK retail stores to put more money into Virgin Megastores which were opened both in the UK and abroad. Another similar example was the sale of the Group's shareholding in BSB and setting-up of Virgin Broadcasting.

The 1990s ushered in yet more diversification and expansion. Virgin Books was formed in 1991, Virgin Radio started in 1993, Virgin Vodka & Virgin Cola launched in 1994, opened Virgin Direct Personal Financial Services for businesses in the same year. Started a low-cost airline in Brussels after purchasing EBA Express and called it, "Virgin Express."

The next decade-and-half was all about a spate of launches and acquisitions by the Group such as Virgin.Net, Virgin Brides, and Virgin Trains, the Group became majority shareholder in London Broncos rugby league team, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Active (South Africa, UK & Italy), Australian airline Virgin Blue (now called Virgin Australia), Virgin Energy, Virgin Cars, Virgin Galactic, Brussels Airlines, Holmes Place, Virgin Fuel (to produce a clean fuel in the future), Virgin Health Bank, Virgin Media, Virgin America, stake in AirAsia X, Northern Rock, Virgin Healthcare, Virgin Money Giving, Virgin Racing (a Formula One team previously known as Manor Grand Prix), Virgin Gaming, Virgin Produced, Project (a digital magazine created exclusively for Apple, Inc's iPad), and Church House Trust, and a host of other group companies.

With (reportedly) around 400 companies in over 30 countries, the Virgin Group has now footprint into a myriad of verticals such as leisure, travel, tourism, mobile, broadband, TV, radio, music festivals, finance and health and through Virgin Green Fund, it is investing in renewable energy and resource efficiency.

He now holds a personal net worth of over $4 billion, good enough to place him among the UK's top five wealthiest people and the top 260 worldwide. He hasn't done with just luck. His leadership skills, vision, persona and charisma have all added to him being a great boss to go along with being a very rich one. It is reported that he writes monthly letters to each of his employees to offer his encouragement and support while requesting their own ideas for improving the ever-elite and durable Virgin machine.

His most adventurous and, most ambitious venture to-date, Virgin Galactic announced the development of orbital space launch system 'LauncherOne' in 2012. Billed as the next step of the Galactic journey, the revolutionary new satellite launch vehicle LauncherOne, is expected to change the whole satellite industry and space-based science research. So much so, that even before its official launch, the initiative has the largest order book of any new launch vehicle ever. It is said to be capable of going around the world at 18,000mph in 80 minutes.

An eye for common good

No account on Richard Branson would be complete without the mention of one the Group's special initiatives that was announced in 2007. It was called the Virgin Earth Challenge - a $25 million prize to encourage a viable technology that can lead to the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases. In July of the same year, Branson joined Peter Gabriel, Nelson Mandela, , and Desmond Tutu, to form 'The Elders,' a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

He also oversees the work of Virgin Unite, the Group's not-for-profit entrepreneurial foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurial approaches to social and environmental issues.

Obviously, his wealth and multi-industry success gives him the stature to influence many who matter. Many would tend to ignore the humane self lying underneath the aggressive and all-conquering businessman – given the extravagant nature of some of his enterprises (some would call them indulgences of the rich and insane, even) like LauncherOne. But, he hasn't let that influence get to his head. Instead, he has used it to put into effect a number of humanitarian efforts, such as a peacemaking group of legendary leaders (The Elders), a South African-based entrepreneurial institution (Branson School of Entrepreneurship), an AIDS and health initiative (Virgin Healthcare Foundation), and an anti-nuclear weapons campaign (Global Zero). He also made a recent commitment to put $3 billion towards the global warming crisis and use industry profits from his transportation companies to research alternative and eco-friendly energy sources.

Awards and Accolades

*Awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Technology from Loughborough University, 1993.
*Conferred the honour of Knight Bachelor for his "services to entrepreneurship' by Charles, Prince of Wales on 30 March 2000.
*Also in 2000, Branson received the 'Tony Jannus Award' for his accomplishments in commercial air transportation.
*In 2009, Branson was voted as the UK's "Celebrity Dream Boss" in an opinion poll by Cancer Research UK.
*Presented Branson with the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his support for environmental and humanitarian causes, December 2007.
*Awarded the German Media Prize (organized by "Media Control Charts") January 2011.
*Awarded the ISTA Prize by the International Space Transport Association in The Hague for his pioneering achievements in the development of suborbital transport systems with "Virgin Galactic" in November 2011.
*Branson was honored with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' President's Merit Award for his contributions to the music industry, February 2012.

Quotes

*"There is no point in starting your own business unless you do it out of a sense of frustration."
*"My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them...from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it."
*"A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts."
*"At Virgin Galactic, we are taking the initiative and making it happen - because space is Virgin territory."
Hope viewers caught up the spark...
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