Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is an English business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He founded the Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies. Branson expressed his desire to become an entrepreneur at a young age.
He went into business in 1966 after leaving school at 16, publishing The Student magazine from the basement of a rented flat. He rapidly expanded into the world of pop music, starting a mail-order business that sent records through the post to tens of thousands of teenagers, and set up Virgin Records, a chain of shops, with the first one opening off London's Oxford Street in 1971. Two years later he launched the Virgin Records label after clinching the rights to Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and attracted a growing roster of artists that included the Sex Pistols, Genesis, and the Rolling Stones.
In 1984, Branson diversified, leasing his first 747 to fly to New York from Gatwick, giving birth to upstart airline Virgin Atlantic, which was soon competing with British Airways at Heathrow.
BA's so-called "dirty tricks" campaign against Virgin rocked the industry in the early 90s: BA argued that Branson's protests against it were a publicity stunt. Branson sued BA for libel. BA settled out of court when its lawyers discovered the lengths to which the company went to try to kill off Virgin, and was forced to pay substantial damages.
Amid rumours that Branson needed cash to underpin parts of his business at the turn of the millennium, he announced in 2000 that Virgin Group had sold 49% of the airline's holding company to Singapore Airlines for more than £600m.
In 2005-06, Branson was busy assembling the Virgin Media group that today competes with BT and Sky for entertainment, phone and broadband customers. The formation of Virgin Media is a classic Branson business venture: he owns a tiny stake in the business that is listed on the Nasdaq exchange in New York, but derives tens of millions by licensing the brand name.