British entrepreneur who has built up the second largest private company in the UK and broken several records with his speed boat and hot-air balloons.
Branson left Stowe School at sixteen, made a false start in business with Student magazine, and founded the beginnings of a private empire when he established Virgin as a company to sell records by mail order in 1969. He opened his first record store in 1971 and created the Virgin record label in 1973. Virgin Atlantic Airlines began in 1984. In 1992 Branson sold Virgin Music to Thorn EMI for £560 million. In 1993 he started Virgin FM radio and in 1995 bought the MGM chain of 116 high-street cinemas. His other commercial ventures include railways, hotels, and financial services and the successful manufacture of brands of jeans and cola.
Apart from his highly successful business empire Branson has acquired a worldwide reputation breaking records at sea and in the air. In 1986 he made the fastest-ever sea crossing of the Atlantic in a speed boat, winning him the Blue Riband. The following year he became the first to co-pilot a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic. In 1991 he did the same across the Pacific. In 1998 he failed in an attempt to circumnavigate the world in a hot-air balloon, narrowly escaping with his life.
Branson's genial smiling image conceals a tough entrepreneur who has won high-profile law suits against such corporate giants as British Airways and Camelot (organizer of the National Lottery). Despite a conviction for evading customs duty and owning the second-largest private company in Britain, Branson remains remarkably popular with a public, which largely accepts him as a supporter of the ordinary consumer against corporate greed and dishonesty.
Subjects: Music — Contemporary History (Post 1945).