Welcome to the first in an ongoing series of ‘How They Made It’, where I will be offering an insight into the intriguing, amazing and occasionally bizarre success stories of the rich and famous.
In this instalment, I will be focusing on Sir Richard Branson - English business magnate and founder of the Virgin Group.
As one of the most famous faces in the entrepreneurial world, it’s fair to say that Richard Branson has done quite well for himself - but he didn’t exactly get off to a running start…
Branson began his academic career at Scaitcliffe School, before attending Stowe Secondary until the age of 16. Due to his dyslexia and disdain for class work, Richard achieved poor grades, but what he lacked on paper, he more than made up for in a unique ability to think outside the box. It is said that on one of his last days of school, Branson’s headmaster told him that he’d either end up in prison or become a millionaire (not a terrible observation!).
Before leaving school, Branson ran a publication called The Student which featured advertisements of the UK’s latest popular music releases - this picked up momentum very quickly and subsequently sent him on a journey to starting his first major business venture, Virgin Records.
From the crypt of his local church, a very young and determined Branson began to sell and distribute sought after records at prices which were much more competitive than the big high street outlets of the time - word quickly got around and his rather simple but effective business model began to turn a view heads.
Business bloomed and in 1972, Branson generated enough funds to eventually open his very own store in London’s bustling Oxford Street, selling a large selection of contemporary records at very low prices, but this wasn’t without it’s issues....
Everything was heading in the right direction, but Richard was thrown a curveball when he was questioned by the authorities in connection with selling goods which were declared export stock. This was eventually settled outside of court, but a hefty fine meant that Richard’s mother had to re-mortgage their home to make ends meet.
Despite this setback, Richard soldiered on, grew the business and started to make some serious cash, and with his ambitions still sky high, bought an affluent country estate. Naturally, this turned into a recording studio which was initially used to lease to upcoming bands and artists. But, with a passion for music and a keen eye for talent, Richard transformed this side venture into a fully-fledged record label and signed his first acts which included Mike Oldfield and infamous Punk Rock outfit, The Sex Pistols.
Over the next decade, Virgin Records grew and won the respect of fans and critics alike for exposing cutting edge musical talent to the masses and helping to change the face of the industry - at last, Virgin was a genuine household name and Richard had truly made it.
As we all know, Mr Branson didn’t stop there and Virgin Records was just the tip of the iceberg! It began in 1993 when Richard broadened his horizons by entering the risky world of railway transport and well, we all know the rest: Virgin vodka, cola, airlines, balloons, F1, media and even Virgin Intergalactic - yes Richard is currently hatching a plan to launch commercial trips into suborbital space!
Although he struggled at first, Richard Branson held onto his dreams and as a result, has built an empire and a reputation of truly epic proportions.