Virgin Direct is created, representing the group's entrance into financial services.
Euro Belgian Airlines, a low-cost, short-haul airline, is acquired and renamed Virgin Express.
Virgin Rail Group is formed, following the acquisition of two aging, poorly maintained rail lines.
Virgin Group is a diversified grouping of more than 200 privately held companies. The largest of theseare Virgin Atlantic Airways, the number two airline in the United Kingdom; Virgin Holidays, a vacationtour operator; Virgin Rail, the second largest U.K. train operator; the Virgin Retail Group, whichoperates numerous Virgin Megastores, a retail concept featuring videos, music CDs, and computergames; and Virgin Direct, which offers financial services. Other Virgin businesses include beveragemaker Virgin Cola, a record label, book and music publishing operations, hotels, an Internet serviceprovider, movie theaters, a radio station, cosmetics and bridal retailing concepts, and a line ofclothing. Holding this disparate group of companies together is the combination of Richard Branson andthe Virgin brand name. British entrepreneur Branson dropped out of boarding school at the age of 17,in 1967, to start his own magazine. That venture was an immediate success, establishing thefoundation for what would become a multibillion-dollar conglomerate during the 1990s. Along the way,Branson would attain cult status in his home country--the result of his business exploits, quests foradventure, and unique personal style. The Virgin brand had meantime become, according to thecompany, one of the top 50 brands in the world by the late 1990s; a poll of British consumers at thattime showed that 96 percent had heard of Virgin.
Branson's entrepreneurial bent emerged during his childhood. 'The fact that we never had any moneywas a very good thing,' explained Branson's mother, Eve, in the November 1987 issue of
EveBranson went on to suggest that her son 'wanted to help the family.' A friend cited Branson's love forsports and competition as another major ingredient of his success; 'He likes playing the game for thesake of playing the game. He competes hard because he enjoys the competition,' noted Simon Draperin the
article.Although Branson loved sports as a youngster, he was forced to rechannel that energy following aserious knee injury. He decided, instead, to focus on establishing a business. Branson embarked on hisfirst venture, in fact, when he was around 11 years old, planting 1,000 seedlings, which he hoped toeventually sell as Christmas trees. When rabbits ate the seedlings, Branson tried a different scheme ayear later. His plan this time was to breed and sell a type of small, highly reproductive parrot. Thateffort fell through when, according to Branson, rats ate the parrots; Branson's mother, however,contended that she released the birds.Branson was undaunted by early failures. With the same enthusiasm that would characterize his entryinto new endeavors as an adult, he initiated his first major success at the age of 15 when he started amagazine called
His parents reportedly were under the impression that Branson had beenworking on a simple school newspaper, but they learned that he intended to launch a magazine for thegeneral public after he traveled to London to sell advertising space. Branson's father, Edward, had hisdoubts, but he did not want to quash his son's excitement. Besides, Edward reasoned, Richard only had£100 (about US$150) to his name, and it would be good for him to learn a lesson about the difficulty ofmaking it on his own.
From Record Seller to Record Label:
To the surprise of his parents, Branson sold 50,000 copies of the first issue of
which wasproduced in January 1968. In fact, the venture was so successful that Branson dropped out of schoolwhen he was 17 to run his business full time. Soon thereafter, in 1970, he launched his second majorundertaking, a company called Virgin. Virgin started out as a mail-order record company. A new lawhad just been passed that allowed people to sell records at discounted prices, and Branson was amongthe first to take advantage. Like his magazine, Branson's new company was an immediate success. Salesskyrocketed, and Branson scrambled to find workers to keep up with the tremendous order load. Whena postal strike crushed the mail-order endeavor, the resilient Branson responded by changing hisstrategy. In 1971 he opened a small, discount record shop that was also a hit. A string of Virgin Recordstores followed.