Virgin pioneer Richard Branson turns 70

© Daniela Zoppi / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Richard Branson seems to have just prevented that from his airline Virgin Atlantic. In the long term, the multi-billionaire wants to transport passengers into space. Now the ambitious entrepreneur with a penchant for self-expression turns 70.

The Virgin Atlantic machines are still on the ground. However, from July 20, the first long-haul flights to the USA and Hong Kong should take off again in London-Heathrow, as the airline announced on request. Other destinations – at least according to the plan – will be flown to from August. For majority owner Richard Branson, this is finally good news again. The British multi-billionaire, who turns 70 this Saturday (July 18), has recently been largely negative headlines.

In April, following the Corona crisis, Branson asked for government aid to its airline. That brought him criticism and ridicule in his home country. Because when Virgin Air’s competitor British Airways was in a crisis around ten years earlier, Branson had clearly spoken out against government aid to companies. “Loss-making and inefficient societies should be driven against the wall,” he said at the time. Critics now accused him of having suffered losses before the corona pandemic broke out.

The green light came on Tuesday: The airline is to be brought back on its feet with a £ 2.1 billion (around € 2.3 billion) rescue package. The money is said to come partly from the two shareholders Virgin Group and Delta Air Lines and partly from a hedge fund. In addition, several creditors agreed to defer loans. But painful steps are necessary: ​​more than 3,500 jobs have been cut, aircraft orders postponed.

He had already contributed a quarter of a billion himself, Branson wrote in an open letter to the staff, pointing out that his private wealth was based on the value of the Virgin companies before the crisis: “This is not money that I can withdraw from a bank. “

Now he wants to sell shares in his space company Virgin Galactic, despite losing the majority of the company. A remarkable step. Because Virgin Galactic is an absolute affair of the heart for the British, who likes to present himself as a great adventurer and visionary, but in whom many see a wide-mouthed self-expression. In fact, both probably apply to the entrepreneur, who is said to have founded more than 400 companies.

Virgin Galactic also fits. Branson founded the company in 2004 with the goal of enabling space flights for tourists. For wealthy tourists, of course, because a plane ticket costs around 220,000 euros. Pop stars like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are said to have already booked their space tickets. Branson is competing with US billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

For years, the blond, bearded Brit has been optimistic that flight operations are imminent. So far, it has been an empty promise. In 2014 the project experienced a dramatic setback. The “Spaceship Two” crashed during a test flight in the California Mojave Desert. One pilot was killed and another was seriously injured. The work continued a week later.

Another space company launched in 2017, Virgin Orbit. It is developing a launch vehicle to launch small satellites into space. The first test flight of a rocket failed in May. Nevertheless, Virgin Orbit spoke on Twitter of a big step forward. In addition, both companies produced respirators and oxygen helmets in Africa during the corona crisis.

Branson is not discouraged by small or large setbacks, which he also likes to emphasize in interviews. As a dyslexic, the London native, who was born in the Blackheath district on July 18, 1950, had major problems at school. He left her without a degree and soon became self-employed.

Branson founded Virgin Records when she was 20 – initially a mail order company, later a music store and finally a record label. “I bought a lot of records, and that was very expensive,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung two years ago. “I thought that people should have the opportunity to get music cheaper. And those who offer something cheaper are usually successful. “

The punk band Sex Pistols was one of the first artists Branson signed on. He owed his greatest success to date to the musician Mike Oldfield. Virgin Records released the debut album of the then unknown young guitarist in 1973. “Tubular Bells” became a worldwide success and made Branson a millionaire.

Gradually the ambitious entrepreneur, who has been able to call himself Sir Richard since 1999, founded one company after the other, mostly with registration in tax havens. A book publisher, hotels, cruises and hot air balloon flights, even a bank were among them. At times he ran hundreds of Virgin Megastores, large multimedia stores. Virgin Radio competes with the BBC in the UK. His Virgin Cola could not prevail against the industry giants Coca Cola and Pepsi.

With strange PR stunts, Branson, who, according to himself, is rather shy and averse to conflict, regularly attracts public attention. A photo of Branson with a naked model on her back doing kitesurfing went around the world. As was so often the case, it was just a show. In private, Branson has been happily married to his second wife Joan for more than 30 years.

The couple, who have two children, live on the island of Necker, which is part of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Branson bought them and invited prominent guests to them over the years. One of them was former US President Barack Obama. Branson was once again sure to attract public attention. Obama’s old campaign slogan “Yes, we can!” Could also be used as a motto for Branson’s maxim: “Yes, we can!”

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