Virginâ€™s enterprises can soar â€“ but also fail to reach orbit
All exciting, cutting-edge stuff, a classic of the Virgin genre, and on the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, it must have been difficult not to get carried away with the astromania of it all.
The deal fits another Virgin pattern too.
Virgin Atlantic, the global airline and still Bransonâ€™s baby, is 49 per cent owned by Singapore Airlines; Virgin Trains is only 51 per cent owned by Bransonâ€™s group, with the balance in a UK transport company. There are many other examples of Branson selling equity stakes in his businesses to well-heeled investors, while maintaining the impression that they still have the Virgin â€œtouchâ€.
It would be mean to disillusion starry-eyed Gulf investors, and there is no doubt the project is a mould-breaking, exciting enterprise that deserves success. But it must be pointed out that Virgin dreams do not always come true, and sometimes verge on the nightmarish, for consumers and investors alike.
In particular, Branson has not had much luck when his companies bravely go onto the worldâ€™s stock markets. His formative experience with Virgin Group in the 1980s was a disaster, and since then there have been others whose return for investors has hardly been stellar â€“ Virgin Victory, Virgin Express, Virgin Media and Virgin Blue come to mind. Just last week he sold his American company Virgin Mobile for less than half its flotation value.
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