The Observer’s Richard Wachman asks an interesting question I’ve been wondering about a lot lately:
Virgin brands: What does Richard Branson really own?
The sprawling business empire that makes up Richard Branson’s Virgin investment group consists of about 400 operations, a tangled web of enterprises owned via a complicated series of offshore trusts and overseas holding companies.
Branson’s finances are difficult to penetrate because of their complexity and opaqueness, with few of his large companies wholly owned by Branson himself. His big-branded firms such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Money, Virgin Media and Virgin Trains have other major shareholders. In some cases, he simply licenses the brand to a company that has purchased a subsidiary from him, and these include Virgin Mobile USA, Virgin Mobile Australia, Virgin Radio and Virgin Music (now part of EMI). In return, as the licence holder of the Virgin brand, he receives annual or triennial fees that can amount to hundreds of millions over time.
By forging partnerships with cash-rich allies, Branson has established new businesses without depleting the group’s reserves and spending little to establish new ventures in sectors such as mobile telecoms. But initiatives come straight from Branson, who prides himself on his ability to spot a gap in the market. He is not a numbers or a details man and leaves the everyday running of his firms to a group of lieutenants.
Which brings us to Virgin Galactic. And the numbers there are really interesting.