Home Business How Richard Branson Became a Self-Made Billionaire by 41

How Richard Branson Became a Self-Made Billionaire by 41

Shannon July 2, 2019

Sir Richard Branson is the CEO of Virgin Airlines and Virgin Records. He even lives in the Virgin Islands! Throughout the course of his career, Branson has worked with some of the top musical talent in the world like The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols. Virgin Record stores spread across the world for decades, and the brand is a household name. The Virgin Group consists of more than 60 companies, including Virgin Airlines. They have 71,000 employees and boast a revenue of $22.3 billion.

Today, Richard Branson is personally worth over 5 billion dollars. After dropping out of High School at the age of 16, the nearly-70-year old still acts like a youthful playboy who is eager to take on life at any moment. It is clear to see that he truly loves what he does, and he will likely continue to work for the rest of his life. So, then, you may be wondering: How did Branson become a self-made billionaire?

The cover of Student Magazine. Credit: Virgin.com

A Brilliant Idea

Branson had the entrepreneurial spirit all his life. He was born in Surrey, England, but he did not have the benefit of being born to millionaire parents. Even at a young age, he was far more interested in making money than getting good grades. Richard was very clever, but since he had undiagnosed dyslexia, he was never “book smart” When he was only 15 years old, he started a magazine called Student, and sold copies around to various schools for profit. Since he was a very cool guy, he knew exactly what kinds of topics interested students his own age. By the age of 16, he already had enough of school, especially after making $8,000 in advertising in one month for the magazine. He decided to drop out to continue working on his business.

Since he was an artistic High School dropout, Branson began to hang around the hippie Engish music and drug scene of the late 1960’s. This was the era of Woodstock and the free love movement. Without the benefit of the Internet, young people need to rely on magazines and the radio to learn about new music from around the world. Branson saw a need for smaller artists to get a record deal, so he established a company in 1970 called The Virgin Group. At first, this was just to cover his magazine publication. That same year, he decided to establish a mail-order service so that he could mail records out to people who requested specific albums. Back then, people could only get a certain album if it was available at their local shops. So, the mail-order service became incredibly popular across the UK.

Since Richard Branson often met enough up-and-coming musicians when reporting for his magazine, he decided to use the same name for “Virgin Records”. In 1972, he built his first recording studio in Oxfordshire, England, so that his friends could record their first albums and EP’s. The very first single to ever be recorded by Virgin Records was, “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. Lucky for Branson, he truly did have an ear for good music, because the song was on the top of the charts in the UK for 247 weeks straight.

Virgin Records had now established themselves as the hottest new record label on the scene. Branson was able to sign on the likes of The Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, and Genesis. At the time, The Sex Pistols was a controvercial punk rock band, and no one else was willing to sign them, despite the fact that they had such a serious following. Branson was smart enough to know talent when he heard it. Today, The Sex Pistols are still famous saround the world. As the years went on, Virgin Records expanded to brick-and-mortar record stores. They were established all over the world, and became the go-to store whenever someone wanted to buy music.

In 1992, Richard Branson sold Virgin Records for $1 Billion. Most people would be happy to retire a billionaire, but he was actually so upset to let the business go, that he openly cried after signing the deal. This just goes to show that money cannot buy happiness. He truly loved his business so much, he was sorry to see it go. Determined to stay in the music industry, he established Virgin Radio in 1993, and created a second record company called V2 in 1996.

Virgin Atlantic Airlines was able to succeed, despite Branson’s lack of experience. Credit: Shutterstock

Expanding the Virgin Brand

Aside from music, Richard Branson’s other passion in life was traveling all around the world. In 1984, he was on a flight from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands, when it was delayed. He had a date waiting for him, so he did not want to miss it. He had the money to charter his own plane, and offered other waiting passengers the opportunity to get on board his plane for $39 each.

That same year, he established Virgin Airlines. Joining the airline business is notoriously difficult, especially for first-timers. Despite his lack of experience, Branson was able to come out on top, making $23 million profit fairly quickly. He admits that back when he got started, most experts would have assumed that he would fail. “I knew that if I could make an airline that was exceptionally better than the other airlines, one that I wouldn’t mind flying, that it was likely I would have more money out of it than going in by the end of the year.” His intuition worked, because the airline was one of his biggest revenue streams before he merged his company with Alaska Airlines in 2016, selling it for $4 Billion.

During an interview, Branson said that the biggest mistake he ever made was Virgin Cola. For a while, the sales of his soda were doing far better than Coca Cola and Pepsi. But he crossed the line when he appeared in a tank in the middle of New York Time Square crushing cans of Coca Cola and Pepsi. He heard through the grapevine that Coca Cola paid the grocery chains to remove Virgin Cola from the shelves, and it completely tanked the company. Lesson learned: Don’t make enemies with your biggest competitor!

Richard Branson has continued to expand the Virgin brand to dozens of different business entities all over the world. They have 71,000 employees in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Asia, Europe, and South Africa. Just a few of the companies that they have started a train service, the Virgin Hyperloop One, Virgin Hotels, and in 2018, he announced the creation of his cruise line called Virgin Voyages.

Perhaps the most auspicious business venture he has planned a space tourism company called Virgin Galactic. Clearly, this is in direct competition with Elon Musk’s Space X, but the one major difference is that Branson has already gotten a $1 billion investment from The United Arab Emirates to make it a reality. Even though there is currently a wait list, over 700 people have already paid $250,000 each to become some of the first space tourists in world history.

Richard Branson is always ready to help others with his advice. Credit: Shutterstock

Helping and Inspiring Others

In the year 2000, Richard Branson became a knight. No- we aren’t talking about the round table. In England, some of the most influential Brits get “knighted” by the royal family. This means that he officially became a “Sir”, which is one of the highest honors anyone can receive. After decades of building his businesses, Richard Branson decided to give back to the community with some of his earnings. In 2004, Branson created his non-profit organization called Virgin Unite. He supports various charitable causes such as The Elders, Ocean Unite, Carbon War Room, The B Team and The Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship.

For those of us who are aspiring to run our own businesses, we look up to people like Richard Branson. It is always useful to get advice and tricks of the trade. Luckily, he has been gracious enough to give great advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs all the time. During an interview, he was asked about the advice that he could give to aspiring billionaires. He said, “I see opportunities when others only see challenges…By being a generally positive person, you can make positive things happen.”

Another great piece of advice that Richard Branson gives is that you be nice to everyone. After all, you never know who someone really is, or who they are connected to. You can never judge a book by its over. He said, “Respect is how to treat everyone, not just those you want to impress.” By remaining gracious and down-to-earth, you can make connections that last a lifetime.

Last, and certainly not least, he seems to subscribe to the old saying that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. He says: “As soon as something stops being fun, I think it’s time to move on. Life is too short to be unhappy. Waking up stressed and miserable is not a good way to live.”


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Richard Branson. Biography.com

Here’s How Richard Branson Built His $5.1B Fortune. GoBankingRates.com. 2018.

Richard Branson: My Approach to Life. In Depth with Graham Bensinger on YouTube. 2018.