Wednesday 22 November 2017

Newsmaker: Richard Branson

Richard Branson: the original rockstar billionaire
Richard Branson: the original rockstar billionaire Newsdesk and Agencies

Richard Branson is the original rockstar billionaire. His show-stopping arrival at the RDS in Dublin on the side of a massive Virgin red truck was if anything mild for a man who was once known for his death-defying hot air ballooning adventures.

The end result was still acres of free newsprint and broadcast coverage for the rebranding of UPC as Virgin Media.

Before blue hoodies were even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, the Virgin boss had built a global business empire.

Since 1970, Britain's most famous businessman and his Virgin brand have carved out a surprisingly long-lived role as the fun, high octane alternative to traditional business stiffs. It's a lesson that hasn't been lost on Irish business leaders including Michael O'Leary's Ryanair and Paddy Power - two brands that have never knowingly turned away free publicity.

Branson started out with a mail order music business. He has never really left showbiz behind, bringing it with him into everything from cola to trains, mobile phones and even banking.

Testament to the power of the brand, the Branson empire hasn't actually bought cable provider UPC, which is part of US billionaire John Malone's cable giant Liberty Global. It bought Virgin Media in the UK from Branson and its other shareholders back in 2013.

Under the terms of that deal Malone will continue to use the Virgin name for 30 years - a sign of the enduring and lucrative power of the utterly adaptable Virgin brand.

Licensing the brand is smart business for Branson - he gets to eat his cake and have it. In return a traditional behind the scenes investor like John Malone gets to have his business bask in Branson's enduring star appeal - and hugely successful brand management.

Collaboration with the likes of Malone is par for the Branson course. Over the past four-and-a-half decades Richard Branson has worked with characters ranging from Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols to Wilbur Ross, the American financier who cleaned up by buying Bank of Ireland shares at the bottom of the banking crisis.

Wilbur Ross and Branson together provide the financial muscle for Virgin Money, a UK bank that went public last year. Branson is as successful a financier as any of his partners - and the one-time business virgin is now worth an estimated €4.3bn.

Irish Independent

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