The World's Most Fun-loving Tycoon (大亨）
Richard Branson is a high school dropout, who became one of the richest men in the world, and one of the world's most famous self-promoters. His companies range from record stores to an airline. The world's most fun-loving tycoon has built his empire through instinct and an unshakable(不可动摇的) belief in himself.
In business, Branson was looking for something new, something bold, and he got the idea for his next venture when, one weekend in early 1984, he tried to book a flight to New York.
Branson: I picked up the phone to People Express and I dialed their reservations number and I just got engaged(忙碌的) all day long. And I thought, well, either they're very busy, very successful, or they're incredibly inefficient, because I could never get through.
People Express was part of a new breed of discount airlines, and Virgin Records had made its mark as a discount brand. Relying on instinct, Branson recognized a business opportunity and pounced. He wanted to start a new trans-Atlantic airline. But this time, Branson's aides thought that he had gone too far. Branson was proposing to take on British Airways, which dominated the market and did not like competition. But, Branson, with no experience in the airline industry, was starting from scratch(起点).
Branson: We did literally have to pick up the phone to Boeing and say, “We'd like to buy a second-hand 747.”
And with that, Virgin Atlantic was born. The staid(不变的,固定的) world of air travel was about to meet Richard Branson.
But the airline had no advertising budget and Branson needed publicity.
Lori Levin (Virgin Executive): We had one airplane, and I had to try to get the press to be interested in Virgin Atlantic and cover it. And I remember calling a journalist at the New York Times, and he said, “How many planes do you have?” And I said, “Well, we have one.” He said, “Call me back when you have a fleet(一队车,船,飞机等).”
Branson needed a way to get the press to take notice, and he hit upon an idea true to his daredevil(蛮勇的) nature. Though he had little experience racing motorboats, Branson decided to break the record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sea.
In June of 1984, Branson and his team launched from New York in the custom-made Virgin Atlantic Challenger. That first attempt ended in disaster, with the boat sinking 60 miles short of its goal.
Though he nearly lost his life, Branson earned publicity for his Virgin brand. In 1986, Branson launched the Virgin Challenger 2, and succeeded in crossing the Atlantic in 80 hours and 31 minutes, more than two hours faster than the previous record.
Branson was becoming a media darling and Virgin was becoming a household name. The publicity had worked.
The future seemed as bright as Branson's signature smile – especially for his airline. When he founded Virgin Atlantic, even his closest business partners thought he would not succeed. But Branson had proved them wrong. Although Virgin Atlantic was founded on the principle of fun, it was quickly earning a serious reputation. Nearly half of its income was now coming from business travelers. And the airline was expanding into new markets like Los Angeles, Boston and Tokyo. These were bread-and-butter(生计) routes for British Airways, and the airline giant was quickly growing impatient with Branson's upstart(暴发户). Branson didn't know it, but British Airways had declared a secret war on Virgin Atlantic.
Branson: British Airways decided to…put Virgin Atlantic out of business. And they resorted to extraordinary methods to do so; what became infamously(声名狼藉地) known as the Dirty Tricks campaign.
The Dirty Tricks campaign could kill Virgin Atlantic---quickly. But British Airways had underestimated Branson. Branson fought back. He sued British Airways for libel(诽谤罪). Then, in December 1992, British Airways agreed to settle Branson's libel case, and as part of the settlement, the transportation giant was forced to publicly apologize for its Dirty Tricks campaign. Richard Branson had taken on one of the largest transportation companies in the world--- and won. The victory over British Airways meant that Virgin Atlantic was here to stay, and Branson was infused(灌输,注入) with confidence---and cash. And he started to make news in the United States as well. When he launched Virgin Cola, he did so in a typically flamboyant(辉耀的,华丽的) fashion by driving a tank down New York City's Fifth Avenue. Virgin Cola ultimately did not blow away(消除) Coke or Pepsi, but Branson took great satisfaction in giving it a try. Despite all of Branson's theatrics(戏剧演出,舞台效果) and the growth of the Virgin brand, he still remained relatively unknown outside of England, but Branson was planning yet another daring feat that would garner(获得,得到) world---wide attention. Branson continued to think up sensational ways to promote his companies---actical jokes(恶作剧), like this fake invasion from outer space that entertained all of Britain.
By 2000, the Virgin Group had grown to more than 200 subsidiaries(附属机构), from wine to modeling agencies to wireless telephones. It had annual revenues of over $5 billion, and employed over 25,000 people. In July 2000, Richard Branson turned 50. He was looking forward to another 50 years. He'd come from raising Christmas trees in Sharnley Green to becoming one of the richest men in the world. And he did so by taking risks, always promoting himself and believing that business, like life, should be an adventure.