Richard Branson Bio: The Story of the Public Face of the Virgin Brand

Richard Branson is a billionaire that I think just about everyone knows. His face is instantly recognizable, and his Virgin Group has its hands in a ton of different industries, including music, aviation, travel, and telecommunications.

However, I realized I didn’t actually know that much about Richard Branson and how he started as an entrepreneur. I knew bits and pieces of his life, but I didn’t know the full story.

This is why I wrote this Richard Branson bio, to highlight how he started a small independent record company after squatting in London in the 1970s before building the multi-billion dollar business empire he runs today.

Before we get into the finer detail of Branson’s business and personal life, here are some quick facts to get us started.

richard branson

Richard Branson Bio Facts

Full Name: Richard Charles Nicholas Branson
Birth Date: 18 July 1950.
Birth Place: London, United Kingdom
Nationality: British
Siblings:2 (Linda, Vanessa)
Children: 3 (Holly, Sam, Clare Sarah (deceased))
Partner / Spouse: Kristen Tomassi (m. 1972; div. 1979)​, Joan Templeman ​(m. 1989)
Profession: Businessman, entrepreneur
Net Worth: $4 billion
Social Media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook
Companies Associated With: Virgin Group
Last Updated: 2022

Richard Branson Key Facts Summary

  • Founder of Virgin Records that he sold for £500 million in 1992.
  • Founded the Virgin Group which owns or has large stakes in Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Hotels, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Money, and Virgin Media.
  • Started his career publishing a magazine called Student while squatting in London in the 1970s.
  • He has a net worth of $4 billion
  • Has a large stake in Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company, and reached the edge of space on VSS Unity in 2021
  • Committed philanthropist particularly around climate change issues, as well as animal rights, and helping budding entrepreneurs
  • Became Sir Richard Branson after receiving a knighthood in 2000
  • Avid kitesurfer and has broken several world records

Richard Branson Birthplace and Early Life

By researching Richard Branson’s early life, I think there are some definitive signs that he was destined to be highly successful in business.

Branson was born in 1950 to Eve (a former air hostess) and Edward James Branson (a barrister). I found out that Branson’s mother had been a reasonably successful entrepreneur by selling bins and wooden tissue boxes, so I think you can see where his keen business mind came from.

Richard Branson struggled academically when he was younger, mainly due to his suffering from dyslexia and ADHD. He attended several schools, including Scaitcliffe School, Cliff View House School in Sussex, and Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.

Unlike many famous and rich entrepreneurs I have researched, such as Reed Hastings and Vinod Khosla, Branson didn’t attend university (although he does hold several honorary degrees). In some ways, I think this is quite similar to Steve Jobs, as the Apple marketing guru didn’t complete a university degree either and dropped out after one semester; however, both men went on to achieve significant success in their lives.

Something that I found particularly interesting in Richard Branson’s early life was that he was a squatter in London for a couple of years. He squatted in the basement of a friend’s house alongside 20 other people while he tried to come up with a business idea.

branson in his youth
Branson at a young age

Richard Branson Early Business Success

I know of Richard Branson through Virgin (and many of his media appearances), but I discovered that it was the magazine called Student that got him on the road to success. Branson founded this magazine as an alternative to mainstream media and an attempt to give a voice to younger people.

The magazine covered a whole range of topics from pop culture to the Vietnam War; however, it was one aspect of the magazine that I think led to his later wealth. At this time, Branson had started a mail-order record business (this was long before the days of Spotify!) and used Student to promote various albums and artists. Branson was able to capitalize on a section of the market as his record store sold music at a reduced price compared to the larger, more established record stores.

In his early days, Branson moved the store to the famous Oxford Street in London, and this became the catalyst for founding Virgin Records. The money that Branson raised through his record store allowed him to co-found Virgin Records in 1972 (alongside Nik Powell), and I think his desire to sign artists other labels were wary of helped bring success.

This included groups such as The Sex Pistols, and the early success of this independent record label led to Branson being able to sign artists like Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, and UB40.

I think the following decades demonstrated Richard Branson’s desire for success across multiple areas. Virgin Records became international in 1980 and started signing artists worldwide; however, between 1980 and 2001, the Virgin Group expanded massively.

This expansion included:

  • The Virgin Atlantic airline (1984)
  • Virgin Holidays (1985)
  • Virgin Trains (1997)
  • Virgin Mobile, a Telecomms provider (1999)

To demonstrate how successful Virgin Atlantic became, British Airways, which is the quintessential airline of the UK, started a campaign of dirty tricks against Virgin in the 1990s. This included unscrupulous acts such as hacking into the Virgin computers and promoting a negative PR campaign. I think this shows that Branson made Virgin a viable competitor to BA, which was quite unthinkable at the time.

In the end, British Airways had to give £500,000 to Branson and pay other damages to Virgin Atlantic.

Another major business success for Branson in the 1990s was the selling of Virgin Records to powerhouse EMI in 1992. This sale netted Branson £500m. I don’t think it was ever his long-term strategy to create a small independent label and then sell it for half a billion pounds 20 years later, but it certainly paid off, and it did help to save the struggling Virgin Atlantic airline at the time who were coming under attack from British Airways.

By the Millennium, Branson had a fledging business empire that spread across multiple sectors and could be seen globally. The 2000s also brought him much success by selling Virgin Mobile to NTL:Telewest for £900million in 2006.

Branson expanded the Virgin Group into dozens of different industries, and the ones I have mentioned here are what have brought him the most success over the years. I think his desire to branch out into unfamiliar territory and keep different ventures under the one trusted brand shows his business prowess and has generated various revenue models for his company.

virgin group

Richard Branson Videos

Richard Branson: My approach to life

How Richard Branson Built His Multibillion Dollar Fortune | Forbes

Richard Branson Business Failures

There has been a lot of speculation about whether having to sell Virgin Records in the early 1990s amounted to a business failure for Richard Branson.

The record label wasn’t experiencing the same success as in its early day; however, I think the sale had a lot to do with the struggles of Virgin Atlantic at the time. The dirty tricks campaign from British Airways (alongside the failed test flight on a rented Boeing 747 a few years earlier) impacted the airline greatly. The money from the Virgin Records sale and BA admitting their campaign against the airline helped make Virgin a viable mainstream competitor.

Branson has launched many failed business ideas in his time, and I don’t think you get to his stage of success without having a lot of losses on the way. Some of Branson’s most notable business failures include:

  • Virgin Cola
  • Virgin Cosmetics
  • Virgin Clothing
  • Virgin Cars

These are just some examples, but I think Virgin Cola was perhaps his biggest failure. The idea to take on Coca-Cola was an ambitious one, and I don’t think it was ever destined to succeed. The drink had less than 0.5% market share by the time it was eventually discontinued.

Richard Branson Family

Richard Branson has been married twice. Firstly to Kristen Tomassi in 1972 (they divorced in 1979), and then to Joan Templeman in 1989.

He has two children – Holly and Sam – through his second marriage, and Branson admitted that the couple also had another daughter, Clare Sarah, who unfortunately passed away as a baby.

When I am researching different wealthy and successful business people, I often find they have a hard time maintaining a consistent personal life, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case with Richard Branson. Compared to other wealthy individuals, I have profiles such as Larry Ellison (married four times) and Conrad Hilton (married three times); Branson has remained married to Joan Templeman for over 30 years.

One interesting fact I found about his mother, Eve, was that she worked as an air hostess for British South American Airways, which perhaps influenced his expansion into the aviation industry.

branson's family

Richard Branson Career Earnings and Philanthropy

Richard Branson’s net worth currently stands at $4 billion, and his wealth is a huge step from his early days squatting in London and setting up a magazine and a small, independent record label.

This net worth has allowed Branson to invest heavily as a philanthropist. Some of the charity and humanitarian projects Branson has been involved with have included:

  • The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children
  • Virgin Startup, to provide loans to would-be entrepreneurs in the UK
  • Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa
  • Global Zero campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons

Branson is also a Commissioner on the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which promotes providing broadband access, and he has helped advertise the adverse effect of wildlife poaching.

Richard Branson has devoted a lot of time to climate change issues and pledged to donate $3 billion in 2006, although he has been criticized for not following up on this promise.

Richard Branson Real Estate Holdings

I’m not surprised that Richard Branson owns a ton of real estate. Someone that wealthy has the means to buy almost anything they want, so I’m going to take you through some of his most well-known properties.

The most obvious part of Branson’s real estate portfolio is Necker Island. Branson bought the 74-acre island in the Caribbean in 1978, and it is part of the conveniently named British Virgin Islands. He has spent over $10 million turning the island into a luxury resort and welcoming the rich and famous from around the world.

Branson also owns property on the Spanish island of Mallorca after admitting his love affair with the area where he visited as a child.

Some other properties Branson owns include a ski resort in the Swiss Alps, Mont Rochelle in South Africa, the Kasbah Tamadot resort in Morocco, and Mahali Mzuri in Kenya’s Maasai Nara National Reserve.

moskito island estate

Richard Branson Quotes

These are some quotes I found from Richard Branson that I think show how he has managed to create a multi-billion dollar business from the ground up.

“I suppose the secret to bouncing back is not only to be unafraid of failures but to use them as motivational and learning tools… There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you don’t make the same ones over and over again.”

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

“I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.”

Frequently Asked Questions – Richard Branson Bio

Question: What is Richard Branson’s net worth?

Answer: Richard Branson has a net worth of $4 billion, according to Forbes. He is the founder of the Virgin Group, which has many businesses under its brand, including Virgin Atlantic.

Question: Does Richard Branson really own an island?

Answer: Yes. Richard Branson bought Necker Island in 1978, and it is part of the British Virgin Islands. Branson has spent millions of dollars turning the island into a luxury resort and invites the rich and famous to stay, including former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle

Question: Did Richard Branson own Virgin Records?

Answer: Yes. Richard Branson co-founded Virgin Records with Nik Powell in 1972 as a small independent record label. They signed artists such as The Sex Pistols and Rolling Stones. He sold the record label to EMI for £500m in 1992.

Question: Has Richard Branson been in space?

Answer: Nearly. In 2021 Branson reached the edge of space on the VSS Unity spacecraft. The spacecraft reached a height of 86 kilometers from the Earth’s surface.


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