The rise and rise of Richard Branson’s brand Virgin
1966 While still at Stowe public school, 16-year-old Branson comes up with his first successful business idea, a magazine called Student.
1970 The Virgin brand makes its debut as a retailer selling records by post, undercutting high-street retailers. The name originated from a colleague’s remark that everyone involved was a novice: “We’re complete virgins at business.”
1971 Branson opens his first record shop on London’s Oxford Street, but falls foul of the law for selling records on which he had not paid purchase tax. He escapes with a fine.
1973 Birth of the Virgin record label. It is sold nearly two decades later to EMI, having launched with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and signed acts including the Sex Pistols, the Smashing Pumpkins and Janet Jackson.
1984 Branson establishes one of his most successful and high-profile ventures with the Virgin Atlantic airline, taking on British Airways in what has become one of the biggest corporate rivalries. That antipathy reaches its nadir nine years later when BA apologises “unreservedly” for an alleged “dirty tricks” campaign.
1986 Branson, an insatiable self-publicist, breaks the world record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic in a speedboat. A year later he repeats the feat in a hot air balloon. Virgin Group is floated on the stock exchange but taken private by Branson in 1988.
1987 Branson launches a range of condoms targeted at young adults. The brand name? For once Virgin was ruled out – it was Mates Condoms. The business is sold a year later.
1993 Virgin Radio hits the airwaves in the UK and is sold four years later to a consortium led by Chris Evans in an £85m deal. In 2000 Evans sells the station and his TV interests for £225m.
1994 Branson launches Virgin Cola but it never breaks the stranglehold of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Virgin Brides and Virgin Cosmetics fail, as does a bid to run the National Lottery.
1997 Virgin Trains launches and within a year is the most criticised operator on the railways.
1998 Virgin Mobile is launched and is a massive investment success after it is taken over by cable group NTL to form Virgin Media in 2006. Branson receives a minimum annual payment of £8.5m for use of the Virgin brand.
2004 Virgin Galactic, an airline that will operate in space, is launched. It has yet to make its first flight.
2005 The Virgin Active UK gym chain, one of Branson’s quieter successes, expands by acquiring Holmes Place.
2007 Branson confirms his impeccable timing, selling 125 Megastores – the heirs of his original modest Oxford Street venture – to Zavvi for £1. Zavvi is liquidated two years later.
2010 Virgin signs deals with NHS in Devon and Surrey to run social care and community health services.
2011 Virgin Money agrees to buy Northern Rock, the bank rescued by the taxpayer at the start of the credit crunch, for £747m. Labour and some Tory backbenchers claim that pushing for a quick deal had locked the taxpayer into a loss of at least £400m.
2012 Virgin loses out to FirstGroup for the west coast franchise.