Richard Branson is preparing to blast off into outer space. Some would argue that he has been living there for decades. The Virgin CEO known for his ‘out of this world’ extravagances has always marched to a different beat. But now he is all set to redefine ‘personal happiness’ on an even more extravagant level with Virgin Galactic; the first commercial airline service to offer real trips around the world that are…well…trippy, and nothing short of recherché. The pretentious set, including Ashton Kutcher Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, has already begun to clamber for tickets.
It’s a long way from home for the billionaire Branson who began his career as a dyslexic running a B-grade record outlet from the basement of a church. This gradually morphed into his own label ‘Virgin’ – a company, highlighted by some very high profile groups including the Sex Pistols and Culture Club that became so profitable it afforded Branson the luxury of his first country estate. By the mid-1980s Branson was looking elsewhere for profits, diversifying his brand to include an airline and cellphones. Since then Branson has been exploiting the Virgin imprint on everything from railways to cola, vodka to a new and still in development fuel alternative for automobiles and planes.
Branson has always claimed that his greatest kick out of life has been in setting seemingly impossible goals for himself and then miraculously achieving them in the face of skepticism and, in some cases, downright rabid criticism for his avant garde approach to life in general and business in particular.
True enough, in the early 1990s, Branson was forced to sell off his beloved Virgin record label for a then whopping $560 million pounds to keep his aviation dream empire alive. It was a bitter blow. But he later regrouped and reentered the music scene with V2 Records; illustrating a blind optimism and more intuitive resilience to juggle his many creative endeavors while keeping most of the balls in the air. Truer still; a half dozen of Branson’s less ambitious monopolistic plans to conquer the globe with his personal imprint on food, clothes, eye ware, etc. have miserably failed to live up to expectations or have flopped outright.
But at an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion the 62 year old Branson can afford to be ostentatious, and arrogant and yes, even deftly outrageous. Forbes recently ranked him the fourth most successful entrepreneur in Britain (#225 overall). As such, Branson has most definitely earned the right and the privilege to be called ‘Sir’ and to be taken seriously as a formidable visionary. He sees the world from an ever so slightly askew perspective and that makes him an easy target for the more socially-grounded commentators who probably view Branson’s successes more than his failures with a modicum of pea green envy. But Branson has proven time and again that to be labeled an eccentric also carries with it the suggestion that he is decidedly ahead of his time.
Virgin Galactic has already garnered enough praise and pity to clutter up the stratosphere with interstellar jealousy; labeled as everything from a revolutionary breakout, set to dominate commercial space travel for decades to come, to being distilled as the latest toy of an overgrown child who obviously has nothing better to do with his money than lavish it on absurdly fanciful ventures doomed to the premature burnout of a supernova.
So, will Virgin Galactic be the new frontier for Richard Branson? Debatable. At a hefty $200,000 U.S. price of admission it’s unclear yet just how many of the uber-rich around the world will be lining up for their window seats on his intergalactic flights. One thing is definitely for certain. With a mind and a will as constantly probing as his, Virgin Galactic is unlikely to be Branson’s final frontier.
@Nick Zegarac 2012