Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way

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by Richard Branson
     
 

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The larger-than-life founder of the Virgin business empire weaves a colorful autobiographical tale about his feats on the business and sporting fronts.

Overview

The larger-than-life founder of the Virgin business empire weaves a colorful autobiographical tale about his feats on the business and sporting fronts.

Editorial Reviews

Richard Branson
An Entrepreneur's Life

You can like Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin business empire, or you can dislike him; but one thing you can't say about him is that he's dull.

Whether he's performing feats of youthful derring-do, founding a new business, or ballooning and sailing under the riskiest conditions, his life has been packed with challenge, adventure, interesting characters, terrifying crises, and big money. You might think that someone with this kind of fame and wealth would be rather full of himself. Not so. In his autobiography (it's just the first volume, he says), he's really quite modest, and he candidly describes his failures, his defects, and his bad decisions.

In other words, he's as human as you and I -- perhaps more so.

Branson tells his story with an appealing absence of self-aggrandizement, with great vigor, with an eye for the interesting detail and an ear for the amusing anecdote. Born to an eccentric family of modest means in Shamley Green, Surrey, he takes after his mother and tries his hand at various boyish business enterprises: growing Christmas trees, hunting rabbits, breeding parakeets. He becomes one of those boys who is no good at school but proves to be very good indeed, later, at real life. He is dyslexic and has difficulty learning to read. He can't do arithmetic (until the day comes when he's calculating the profits of his businesses, at which time his math is dead accurate). He starts a student newspaper. He notices that what young people are really spending their money on is records. He gets out of the newspaper business and begins selling records, before realizing that the real money lies in making those records rather than merely hawking them.

The rest is history. Branson signs an unknown artist named Mike Oldfield, whose TUBULAR BELLS sells millions. He branches into other businesses, operating more on instinct than on statistics and profit projections. His philosophy seems to be: Work hard and have fun.

"Business is a way of life," he writes. He revels in the "all-embracing, glorious chaos" of his enterprises. His personal life and his work blur together, to the chagrin of wives number one and two. His business ventures take in book publishing, nightclubs, film, catering, apparel, and many other areas. He is unfailingly restless, creative, resourceful. He is a juggler with a dozen balls in the air at once. He is an active participant in his businesses, not a desk jockey. Every week brings new battles against bankers and cash-flow crises. Eventually, of course, he founds Virgin Airways.

The latter part of the book deals with Branson's counterattack against British Airways, which ultimately pays him a large libel settlement and admits to conducting a dirty-tricks campaign to try to put Virgin Airways out of business.

Branson's ballooning and other adventures parallel his adventures in business: challenges that are full of excitement and danger. His narrative of his life, through his late 40s, is like the young tycoon himself: brisk, direct, energetic, and seasoned with a sort of wonder at life.

For Richard Branson, life has been a heck of a ride, and it hasn't hurt that he has made a few pounds along the way.

Richard Norman is a writer and entrepreneur based in Norwich, Connecticut.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812932294
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/28/1999
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Since Alex had practically built the capsule, he knew exactly how to undo the locks. In the panic I realized that if Rory had been on board, we'd have been stuck. We would have had no choice but to parachute. Right now we'd have been tumbling out into the night over the Atlas Mountains. The burners roared overhead, casting a fierce orange light over us.

"Have you parachuted before?" I shouted at Alex.
"Never," he said.
"That's your rip cord," I said, pushing his hand to it.
"It's seven thousand feet and falling," Per called out. "Sixty-six hundred feet now."

Alex climbed through the hatch, onto the top of the capsule. It was difficult to feel how fast we were falling. My ears had blocked. If the locks were frozen and Alex wasn't able to free the fuel cans, we'd have to jump. We had only a few minutes left. I looked up at the hatch and rehearsed what we would have to do: one hand to the rim, step out, and jump into the darkness. My hand instinctively checked my parachute. I also checked to see that Per was wearing his. Per was watching the altimeter. The numbers were falling fast.

We had only 6,000 feet to play with and it was dark-no, 5,500 feet. If Alex was up there for another minute, we'd have 3,500 feet. I stood with my head through the hatch, paying out the strap and watching Alex as he worked his way around the top of the capsule. It was pitch-dark below us and freezing cold. We couldn't see the ground. The phone and fax were ringing incessantly. Ground control must have been wondering what the hell we were doing.

"One's off," Alex shouted through the hatch.
"Thirty-seven hundred feet," Per said.
"Another one," Alexsaid.
"Thirty-four hundred feet."
"Another one."
"Twenty-nine hundred feet; twenty-four hundred."
It was too late to bail out. By the time we'd jumped, we'd be smashing into the mountains rushing up to meet us.
"Get back in," Per yelled. "Now."
Alex fell back through the hatch.

We braced ourselves. Per threw the lever to disconnect a fuel tank. If this bolt failed, we'd be dead in about sixty seconds. The tank dropped away, and the balloon jerked to an abrupt halt. It felt like an elevator hitting the ground. We were flattened into our seats; my head crammed down into my shoulders. Then the balloon began to rise. We watched the altimeter: 2,600; 2,700; 2,800 feet. We were safe. In ten minutes we were up past 3,000 feet and the balloon was heading up into the night sky.

I knelt on the floor beside Alex and hugged him.
"Thank God you're with us," I said. "We'd be dead without you."

They say that a dying man reviews his life in the final seconds before his death. In my case this was not true. As we had hurtled down toward becoming a fireball on the Atlas Mountains and I thought that we were going to die, all I could think of was that if I escaped with my life, I would never do this again. As we rose toward safety, Alex told us a story of a rich man who had set out to swim the English Channel: he went down to the beach, set up his deck chair, laid his table with cucumber sandwiches and strawberries, and then announced that his man would now swim the Channel for him. At this moment, it didn't sound like such a bad idea.

Throughout that first night, we fought to control the balloon. At one point it started a continuous ascent, rising for no apparent reason. We finally realized that one of the remaining fuel tanks had sprung a leak and we had been unwittingly jettisoning fuel. As dawn approached, we made preparations to land. Below was the Algerian desert, an inhospitable place at the best of times, more so in a country in the middle of a civil war.

The desert was not the yellow sandy sweep of soft dunes that you expect from Lawrence of Arabia. The bare earth was red and rocky, as barren as the surface of Mars, the rocks standing upright like vast termites' nests. Alex and I sat up on the roof of the capsule, marveling at the dawn as it broke over the desert. We were aware that this was a day that we might not have survived to see. The rising sun and the growing warmth of the day seemed infinitely precious. Watching the balloon's shadow slip across the desert floor, we found it hard to believe that it was the same contraption that had plummeted toward the Atlas Mountains in the middle of the night.

The still-attached fuel tanks were blocking Per's view, so Alex talked him in to land. As we neared the ground, Alex shouted out:
"Power line ahead!"
Per shouted back that we were in the middle of the Sahara and there couldn't possibly be a power line. "You must be seeing a mirage!" he bawled.
Alex insisted that he come up and see for himself: we had managed to find the only power line in the Sahara.

Despite the vast, barren desert all around us, within minutes of landing there were signs of life. A group of Berber tribesmen materialized from the rocks. At first they kept their distance. We were about to offer them some water and the few remaining supplies, when we heard the clattering roar of gunship helicopters. They must have tracked us on the radar. As quickly as they had appeared, the Berber vanished. Two helicopters landed close by, throwing up clouds of dust, and soon we were surrounded by impassive soldiers holding machine guns, apparently unsure where to point them.

"Allah," I said encouragingly. For a moment they stood still, but their curiosity got the better of them and they came forward. We showed their officer around the capsule, and he marveled at the remaining fuel tanks. As we stood around the capsule, I wondered what these Algerian soldiers thought of it.

Looking back at the capsule, I saw it for a moment through their eyes. The remaining fuel tanks were painted like huge cans of Virgin Cola and Virgin Energy in bright red and yellow. Among the many slogans on the side of the capsule were ones for Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Direct, Virgin Territory, and Virgin Cola. It was probably lucky for us that the devoutly Muslim soldiers could not understand the writing around the top of the Virgin Energy can: despite what you may have heard there is absolutely no scientific evidence that virgin energy is an aphrodisiac.

As I looked at the capsule standing in the red sand, and relived the harrowing drop toward the Atlas Mountains, I renewed my vow that I would never attempt this again. Likewise, in perfect contradiction to this, at the back of my mind I also knew that as soon as I was home and talked to the other balloonists who were trying to fly around the world, then I would agree to have one last go. It's an irresistible challenge, and it's now buried too deeply inside me for me to give up.

The two questions I am most often asked are, Why do you risk your neck ballooning? and Where is the Virgin Group going? In some ways the sight of the ballooning capsule standing in the middle of the Algerian desert, with its cluster of Virgin names plastered over it, summed up these prime questions.

I knew that I would attempt another balloon flight because it's one of the few great challenges left. And as soon as I've banished the terrors of each actual flight, I once again feel confident that we can learn from our mistakes and achieve the next one safely.

The wider question of where the Virgin Group will end up is impossible to answer. Rather than be too academic about it all, which is not how I think, I have written this book to demonstrate how we made Virgin what it is today. If you read carefully between the lines, you will, I hope, understand what our vision for the Virgin Group is and you will see where I am going. Some people say that my vision for Virgin breaks all the rules and is too wildly kaleidoscopic; others say that Virgin is set to become one of the leading brand names of the next century; others analyze it down to the last degree and then write academic papers on it. As for me, I just pick up the phone and get on with it. Both the series of balloon flights and the numerous Virgin companies I have established form a seamless series of challenges that I can date from my childhood.

The Virgin Cola launch in New York in May of 1998 exemplifies the type of business challenge I love. The cola market is dominated by one huge, established competitor-Coke. It's the ultimate brand and one of the world's most profitable and biggest companies. Coke has one weak competitor around the globe, Pepsi, and I like to think that Virgin will be able to use the experience we've built up during the first half of my life to give Coke its first proper competition. Coke's size doesn't intimidate me-the dinosaurs didn't last forever either. If any brand can give Coke a serious run, it's Virgin.

To show Coke that Virgin meant business, I commandeered a tank and drove it into Times Square, the crossroads of America. With the help of some clever pyrotechnicians, we rigged the Coke sign in Times Square with fireworks, and I aimed the tank's gun squarely at the sign and it went up in a burst of false flames. It was all great fun, something I want to see in every Virgin business, but it had its serious side as well. We've made a major financial and corporate commitment to the cola market, and at the very least over the next couple of years I want to see Virgin Cola edge ahead of Pepsi in America, just as we've done in the United Kingdom, where Virgin has 11.9 percent of the diet and regular cola market, ahead of Pepsi's 11.3 percent.

Our base of operations for the Coke "attack" was the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, a location, I was repeatedly advised several years ago, that should not be the one from which to launch our retail business in New York. Times Square was a squalid mess and not the right image for Virgin. But we obtained the space at very reasonable rates. Times Square is undergoing a renaissance. The Virgin Megastore not only survived, it is performing beautifully, and megastores have sprouted everywhere.

If there is a theme in this book, it is survival. Most people who start from scratch don't survive, and although I have, this is not a book of "lessons" about what I've learned. I don't want to pontificate about what you can learn from my life. Rather, I want to tell my story and use these experiences to convey my own thoughts and ideas about both business and life. While the many businesses I've started play an important role in this book, equally as important is my belief that every minute of every day should be lived as wholeheartedly as possible and that we should always look for the best in everyone and everything. Some will say, though, my greatest fault is that I can't say no. But it's led to an enjoyable, open life, and the best thing I wish readers is that they have fun reading this book.

Since Alex had practically built the capsule, he knew exactly how to undo the locks. In the panic I realized that if Rory had been on board, we'd have been stuck. We would have had no choice but to parachute. Right now we'd have been tumbling out into the night over the Atlas Mountains. The burners roared overhead, casting a fierce orange light over us.

"Have you parachuted before?" I shouted at Alex.
"Never," he said.
"That's your rip cord," I said, pushing his hand to it.
"It's seven thousand feet and falling," Per called out. "Sixty-six hundred feet now."

Alex climbed through the hatch, onto the top of the capsule. It was difficult to feel how fast we were falling. My ears had blocked. If the locks were frozen and Alex wasn't able to free the fuel cans, we'd have to jump. We had only a few minutes left. I looked up at the hatch and rehearsed what we would have to do: one hand to the rim, step out, and jump into the darkness. My hand instinctively checked my parachute. I also checked to see that Per was wearing his. Per was watching the altimeter. The numbers were falling fast.

We had only 6,000 feet to play with and it was dark-no, 5,500 feet. If Alex was up there for another minute, we'd have 3,500 feet. I stood with my head through the hatch, paying out the strap and watching Alex as he worked his way around the top of the capsule. It was pitch-dark below us and freezing cold. We couldn't see the ground. The phone and fax were ringing incessantly. Ground control must have been wondering what the hell we were doing.

"One's off," Alex shouted through the hatch.
"Thirty-seven hundred feet," Per said.
"Another one," Alex said.
"Thirty-four hundred feet."
"Another one."
"Twenty-nine hundred feet; twenty-four hundred."
It was too late to bail out. By the time we'd jumped, we'd be smashing into the mountains rushing up to meet us.
"Get back in," Per yelled. "Now."
Alex fell back through the hatch.

We braced ourselves. Per threw the lever to disconnect a fuel tank. If this bolt failed, we'd be dead in about sixty seconds. The tank dropped away, and the balloon jerked to an abrupt halt. It felt like an elevator hitting the ground. We were flattened into our seats; my head crammed down into my shoulders. Then the balloon began to rise. We watched the altimeter: 2,600; 2,700; 2,800 feet. We were safe. In ten minutes we were up past 3,000 feet and the balloon was heading up into the night sky.

I knelt on the floor beside Alex and hugged him.
"Thank God you're with us," I said. "We'd be dead without you."

They say that a dying man reviews his life in the final seconds before his death. In my case this was not true. As we had hurtled down toward becoming a fireball on the Atlas Mountains and I thought that we were going to die, all I could think of was that if I escaped with my life, I would never do this again. As we rose toward safety, Alex told us a story of a rich man who had set out to swim the English Channel: he went down to the beach, set up his deck chair, laid his table with cucumber sandwiches and strawberries, and then announced that his man would now swim the Channel for him. At this moment, it didn't sound like such a bad idea.

Throughout that first night, we fought to control the balloon. At one point it started a continuous ascent, rising for no apparent reason. We finally realized that one of the remaining fuel tanks had sprung a leak and we had been unwittingly jettisoning fuel. As dawn approached, we made preparations to land. Below was the Algerian desert, an inhospitable place at the best of times, more so in a country in the middle of a civil war.

The desert was not the yellow sandy sweep of soft dunes that you expect from Lawrence of Arabia. The bare earth was red and rocky, as barren as the surface of Mars, the rocks standing upright like vast termites' nests. Alex and I sat up on the roof of the capsule, marveling at the dawn as it broke over the desert. We were aware that this was a day that we might not have survived to see. The rising sun and the growing warmth of the day seemed infinitely precious. Watching the balloon's shadow slip across the desert floor, we found it hard to believe that it was the same contraption that had plummeted toward the Atlas Mountains in the middle of the night.

The still-attached fuel tanks were blocking Per's view, so Alex talked him in to land. As we neared the ground, Alex shouted out:
"Power line ahead!"
Per shouted back that we were in the middle of the Sahara and there couldn't possibly be a

Meet the Author

Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group of Companies, was born in 1950 and started his first business, a magazine called Student, when he was sixteen. Virgin began in 1970 as a mail-order record company and has since expanded into over a hundred businesses in areas as diverse as travel, entertainment, retailing, media, financial services, and publishing. He lives in London and Oxfordshire with his wife, Joan, and their children, Holly and Sam.

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Losing My Virginity 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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iapplegeek More than 1 year ago
I really did not know about Richard Branson other than his affiliation with Virigin music but was interested in him after visiting the British Virgin Islands. House on Necker Island. After reading the book, the reader is not only informed about his amazing business career but his interest in humanity through Virgin Unity. Not only that, he is an adrenaline junkie - definitely a man you can respect, admire and appreciate. Very insightful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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mom2maddie More than 1 year ago
What an "out of the box" thinker! This book is great if you're interested in business strategies, life strategies or just creativity! Through this book, Richard Branson has given me re-newed motivation to go out and live life to the fullest! I'm making my list of goals and considering innovative ways to accomplish them...while having fun!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm an OSU Comp Student 2009 and I read this book for an assignment but I loved every minute of it. From beginning to end Branson grabs your attention and never let's go. The stories of his life and business adventures are a combination of entrancing, hysterical, dramatic, and definitely memorable. You will find yourself lost in his wild life, whether it be flying across the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon or starting a world renounced record company. Branson has started a family, started an uncountable amount of business, broke several world records, and all of this is worked masterfully into his book, leaving you with a piece of literature you will definitely not want to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
thanking you richard you really inspired me. i never felt this much confident before. you lived a idol life. now it will be good to see you a movie about your life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
inspiring autobiography of a truly remarkable man. hilarious, poignant, gripping - you won't be able to put down this book and then you'll want more. makes a great gift.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a young entrepreneur myself, I am often looking for inspiration and motivation. This book gives both, plus more. I still can't beleive how quickly I finished this book, but when your so involved with it's contents you just can't put it down. What an amazing man, breathtaking achievements. The best thing about this book is that it is an autobiography. So it doesn't feel like a proffesional writer trying to polish his version by using unnecessary grammer, because Richard is telling you the story as if he is sitting with you at lunch. This book just goes to show that anyone can do anything. 'Losing my Virginity' goes with my life motto- Just get off your arse and give it a go! I feel quite saddened that I will have to wait another forty years for part two of this book. But it will certainly be worth it. To anyone in business, young entrepreneurs procastinating with their start-up, read this book and you feel 100% different, and pumped up ready to go for it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Branson is the epitome of the entrepreneur: brash & adventurous. After reading all those dry business books college and now in the world of commerce, Losing My Virginity is refreshing and funny and should be a bible for the entrepreneur. Branson shows the sometimes itimidating (being a billion dollars in debt), but almost always exciting life of an entrepreneur. Branson takes the reader on a journey of his business path: from his early days as a school magazine publisher to his battles with the elder business establishments such as British Airways. His tales of fellow business leaders including Sir Freddie Laker of Laker Airways are enlightening. If you want some humorous and invaluable insight to entrepreneurship, it's a must-read. And it might just get you interested in taking up trans Atlantic speed boating or ballooning!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A colorful account of one of the world's few admirable rebels. Fighting bureaucracy, red tape gov't favouritism and convention virtually since birth, this autobio inspires those who hunger for success yet can't believe that they'd be able to achieve without being deep pocketed or born with the right bloodline. A must read for anyone seeking inspiration and filled with fun anecdotal real life accounts of his journey.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't usually read books, but this one took a strangle hold of me from the first page to the last. I hope that later in life, he writes a sequel to all the business activities he has been doing since the book came out. This is a must read for wannabe millionaires and aspiring businessmen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of autobiographies ,but this one is my favourite.Why, you ask? Because of the lifestyle from the man who wrote it. This book contains 100% adrenalin, ideas, optimism,humor and the answer how to make your life richer! Richard Branson, thank you.