A high school dropout, British entrepreneur Richard Branson is one of the most flamboyant and successful business moguls of his time. He was born on July 18, 1950, in Surrey, England, and was raised in a family of modest means. At the age of 16, he started his inaugural business venture with an underground magazine called Student. In the magazine he would run advertisements for cheap resales of old records.
Branson's big break came in 1969, when he launched his first company. He named the company Virgin Mail Order Records because he considered himself inexperienced in matters of business. After a rocky start, he began opening up numerous physical record stores, using the newfound capital to found his music label Virgin Records in 1972. Within a year, the label made its first million dollars. Virgin Records soon became one of the most successful record labels in the world, signing major acts such as The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, and The Sex Pistols.
Flush with success in the music industry, Branson expanded his business interests into other areas, such as airlines, banking, telecommunications, healthcare, and even space travel. Today there are more than 400 Virgin companies worldwide, employing approximately 61,000 people handling affairs in more than 35 countries. As the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, Branson has accrued a staggering net worth that exceeds $4 billion, making him one of the richest people in the world.
Branson is not only known for his entrepreneurial success, but also for his philanthropic efforts. In 2004, he established Virgin Unite, the nonprofit foundation of the Virgin Group, with a mission to tackle tough social and environmental problems. The tycoon has also personally donated millions of dollars to various causes and organizations, including Amnesty International, the Alzheimer's Society, and the African Wildlife Foundation.
In 2000, Branson was awarded the knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to entrepreneurship. He was given the title "Sir" Richard Branson and became a member of the Order of the British Empire. In the same year, he was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame, which drew special attention to his record-setting balloon flights, such as being the first to fly the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon in 1990; and the first to fly the Pacific in 1991.
In addition to these awards, Branson has received numerous honorary degrees from universities around the world. He has also been named as one of the most influential people in the world by several publications, including Time magazine and Forbes.