Richard Branson profile: The billionaire entrepreneur behind the Virgin Group empire

Sir Richard is not a man known for crumbling in the face of a challenge

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The Independent Online

As the man who built his empire up from a modest mail-order record service, Sir Richard Branson is not known for walking away from challenging situations.

The 64-year-old billionaire entrepreneur struggled with dyslexia as a child and eventually left school at 16 to launch a magazine for young people.

His multinational corporate empire started in a London commune as a business selling records through mail order in the early 1970s before exploding into a behemoth that has included a record label, airlines, finance, a mobile phone network and train franchise.

In 1972, Sir Richard founded the Virgin Records music label and went onto sign stars such as Genesis, the Sex Pistols and The Rolling Stones. In 2013, he credited the £500 million pound sale of Virgin records for him being able to “build spaceships today”.

Sir Richard's Virgin Group now holds over 200 companies across 30 countries.

The 64-year-old has repeatedly said: “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

In August 1985 he and his crew had to be rescued when their transatlantic yacht the Virgin Atlantic Challenger capsized.

In 1987, his hot air balloon Virgin Atlantic Flyer crossed the Atlantic, setting the record as the first balloon to do so.

In January 1991, he was in the first balloon to cross the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada in a journey that amounted to 6,700 miles.

And from 1995 to 1998, Sir Richard, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett made several attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon.

Against this backdrop his vow to continue with the development of his Virgin Galactic, despite the fatal crash in the Mojave Desert, should not come as a surprise.

Speculation is mounting that the SpaceShipTwo crash, which killed one pilot and injured another, will lead to a “a major delay” to his attempt to take tourists into space.

But Sir Richard has vowed to persevere in his mission to lead commercial flights into space, saying “space is hard – but worth it”.

Additional reporting by PA