Who is Richard Branson, the billionaire who wants to beat Jeff Bezos in space tourism


 

The founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, has collected business successes and technological and sports feats, but he always dreamed of becoming a space billionaire, a stratospheric ambition that has cost him a few meteoric crashes.


"I really believe that space belongs to all of us," he said when announcing his scheduled flight for July 11, a few days before that of Jeff Bezos, the wealthy founder of Amazon.


The famous Briton with a Hollywood smile takes revenge seven years after the accident of the Virgin Galactic spacecraft " SpaceShipTwo ": an error by one of the two pilots caused it to disintegrate in flight.


"The risk is, of course, part of flying in space," the British magnate admitted then.


Branson, 70, has grappled with risk throughout his corporate career, from signing the troubled punk band Sex Pistols to his music label Virgin Records in the late 1970s to the launch of Virgin Atlantic a few years later.


The transatlantic airline, long the flagship of the Virgin group, was hit hard by the pandemic and had to refinance several times to avoid bankruptcy.


The billionaire tried to ask the conservative government of Boris Johnson for help, but it rejected it, probably believing that Branson's finances allowed him to rescue his company without resorting to the taxpayer. In the end, he had to put at least 200 million pounds (275 million dollars, 230 million euros) out of his pocket.


Branson's empire, which began in 1970 with a mile-order record business, now includes several hundred companies in which the group sometimes has only a minority stake.


Last year it claimed about 70,000 employees and an estimated turnover of about 23,000 million dollars.


The group's activities range from gyms to telecommunications, through the press, tourism, and recycling.


But in the end, this south-east London son of a lawyer and a dancer-turned-hostess has amassed a personal fortune estimated at about $ 5.6 billion by Forbes magazine.


And that's after leaving school at 17 to found a magazine for students.


Abundance of challenges


"Launching a new business is always an adventure", summarized Branson a few months ago in an article for the American magazine Entrepreneur.


But sometimes he takes the "adventure" at face value, multiplying his para-sporting exploits and incidentally cultivating his image as a lover of risk outside the norm.


He was the first person, along with the Swede Pers Lindstrand, to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon in 1987, and the Pacific Ocean four years later.


The "flying billionaire", as the British press called him for a long time, was on the verge of losing his life, as in 1996 when he tried to fly non-stop around the world in a balloon and crashed in Algeria.


But in 2004 he set a new record by crossing the English Channel in an amphibious car. He then made several attempts to go around the world in a hot air balloon with his friend Steve Fossett, who has since died in a plane crash and mounted an expedition to unexplored underwater trenches.


This man has already experienced failure, from the collapse of his Virgin Cola soft drink brand to the serial closures of his Virgin Megastore bookstores and record stores.


He's also used to criticism, like the ones that accompanied his exile to Necker, one of the British Virgin Islands, an archipelago considered a tax haven.


He defends himself by saying that he bought it "for its beauty" and for a modest amount when he was only 29 years old.


In what is perhaps the key to his career, he recently gave two pieces of advice on his blog to aspiring entrepreneurs: "You can do anything if you make up your mind" and "Stop worrying about what other people think."

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