Sir Richard Branson’s childhood challenges

Believe it or not, Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, began life as a shy child. He would often cling to the back of his mother’s skirt and refuse to talk to adults. As we know, Branson would overcome his challenges and become one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, achieving immense success in a variety of industries.


Richard Branson’s upbringing

Branson was born in 1950 in Surrey, England. Branson’s mother, Eve, was concerned his shyness would be problematic and used some interesting techniques to prepare him for the future. In an article on the Virgin website, Branson shared his mother’s unconventional parenting lessons.

“As an introverted kid, my mother worried my shyness would become debilitating as I got older. So, to nip it in the bud, she continuously challenged me. She tried to drum it out of me by explaining that shyness is a form of selfishness. She’d tell me that being shy was merely thinking of oneself, rather than wanting to make other people happy. 

“When I turned six or so, she decided that this behaviour was no longer acceptable, and after a shopping trip to a nearby village, stopped the car about three miles from home and let me out. She told me that I’d have to find my own way home by talking to people to ask for directions. By the time I arrived, many hours later, she was very apoplectic – she had not accounted for time to stop to look at bugs and inspect rocks. But it worked. I started to become more comfortable interacting with adults and expressing myself.

Richard Branson on a magazine, from shy child to billionaire

“While some people would call her methods questionable – and I am by no means urging people to follow her example, as now we live in a very different world to the one I grow up in – they taught me what I consider to be life’s greatest lesson: growth happens when you put yourself outside your comfort zone.”

Whilst it’s an extreme example of throwing someone in at the deep end, Branson is certainly no longer shy. What’s more, he recently said, “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.”


More on Richard Branson’s childhood

As a child, Branson struggled with dyslexia, which affected his academic performance. This struggle is highlighted in his autobiography, “Losing My Virginity,” where he talks about how traditional school didn’t really suit his learning style. This is, in fact, common amongst some of the world’s richest people.

However, even at a young age, Branson was always a problem-solver. His parents, who were both adventurous and independent, encouraged him to be self-sufficient. The anecdote above, which is featured in the book “Finding My Virginity,” helped form the foundation of Branson’s adventurous spirit and resilience in the face of adversity.

Despite his academic challenges, Branson showed entrepreneurial tendencies from a young age.


How Richard Branson became a billionaire

Branson showed entrepreneurial spirit early on. In 1966, at the age of 16, Branson launched a magazine named Student. The first issue published in 1968 and became an important element for his next venture; a mail-order record business. This would go onto become his first successful business, Virgin Records, leading to him opening a record store on Oxford Street, London, in the early 1970s.

In 1972, Richard Branson utilised earnings from his record store to launch Virgin Records, a record label that would go on to sign notable artists such as the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel, UB40, Steve Winwood, and Paula Abdul. Branson’s daring decision to sign controversial bands that were rejected by other labels proved to be a successful strategy for Virgin Records, which later became the largest independent record label in the world.

From there, he went on to launch a host of businesses under the Virgin brand, some of which failed (like Virgin Cola) whilst others flourished. Virgin Active, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Virgin Galactic spaceflight program are some of the better known ones. The Virgin Group now operates over 400 companies in various sectors and recorded a total revenue of £16.6 billion in 2019.


Outside of business

Branson is know for his adventurous steak and became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot-air balloon. He also holds the world record for the fastest ever crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle.

Branson has also used his business success to support a range of philanthropic causes, including wildlife conservation and global health initiatives.


You can learn more about Richard Branson and his rise to riches in his excellent autobiographies, linked here:


Richard Branson's story



Read about the childhoods of other super successful people:

How Oprah grew up

How Jeff Bezos was raised

Elon Musk’s upbringing

How Mark Zuckerberg was raised

Tony Robbins’ childhood

Sara Blakely’s childhood