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"My mother was determined to make us independent," Richard Branson writes in his book Losing My Virginity (Times Books 1998). "When I was four, she stopped the car a few miles from our house and made me find my own way home across the fields."

In his youth, Richard Branson was not an impressive student. He was dyslexic and near-sighted, but he could always make things happen. When he was seventeen, attending school at Stowe, Richard and a classmate started a school newspaper, the Student, which ran articles about prominent politicians, famous rock stars, and different celebrities of the day. Richard's mother, Eve, helped keep the fledgling newspaper afloat by giving Richard pocket money and writing stories. The paper debuted in January of 1968.

Shortly thereafter, Richard convinced his parents to let him leave school in order to pursue the newspaper fulltime. While running the Student from a basement in London, Richard noticed that stores were not discounting records. Richard began to run ads in the Student offering records at discount prices. The orders flooded in and record sales soon became more profitable than subscription sales. Richard quickly set up an office above an old shoe store and Virgin Records was born.

Since then, Virgin has grown to be one of the most recognized brands in Britain. More than 200 companies carry the Virgin name (and Richard Branson claims no prior expertise in any of them). Branson started Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984 with just a single plane and built the airline into an international business with annual sales of approximately 1.5 billion pounds. In 1992, Richard sold Virgin Records to Thorn EMI for $1 billion and invested the profits into Virgin Atlantic. Branson has launched a variety of businesses ranging from cellular phones to soft drinks to bridal wear. It is estimated that the Virgin brand is now worth around $5 billion.

In addition to his business ventures, Richard relishes adventure and has attempted to break a number of land and air speed and distance records. In 1986, he raced his boat, "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" across the Atlantic Ocean, in the fastest time ever recorded. The following year, Branson's hot air balloon, "Virgin Atlantic Flyer," was the first hot air balloon to ever cross the Atlantic. In 1991, he crossed the Pacific Ocean, breaking all existing speed and distance records. He has since attempted to fly his balloon around the world, escaping two near fatal disasters.

"I was desperately keen that they never be shy," Eve Branson remembers, "because shyness to me is being inverted and thinking of themselves. So I tried to make them extroverted. If you think of other people enough, you're never going to be shy."

In 1999, Richard Branson was awarded a knighthood for his services to entrepreneurship.

For more on Sir Richard Branson, please log onto www.virgin.com.


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