In 1970, still just 20 years of age, he founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer. Not long after, he opened a record shop in London, England. By 1972, a recording studio was built and the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded "Tubular Bells", a hit that went on to sell over 5 million copies! Next up, he signed the Sex Pistols when they were too wild for any other label. Since then, artists like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Phil Collins (to name but a few) have helped to make Virgin Records one of the top six record companies in the world. Richard sold Virgin Records to the EMI Group in 1992 to concentrate on setting up new businesses in the ever-expanding Virgin Group.
Richard has been involved in a number of world record-breaking adventures since 1985. In 1986, his boat, "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest ever recorded time. A year later, Richard's hot air balloon, "Virgin Atlantic Flyer" crossed the same ocean. It was the first hot-air balloon to do that, the largest hot-air balloon ever flown (at over 700 thousand cubic metres in capacity) which even reached speeds of over 219 kilometres per hour. In 1991, Richard broke all existing records again, travelling 394 kilometres per hour over the Pacific Ocean in an almost 800 thousand cubic metre balloon.
In December 1999, Richard was awarded a knighthood for "services to entrepreneurship". Well done, Sir!
In recent years, Richard has focused much attention onto global challenges including the environment. In 2007 he announced his involvement as a founder of The Elders - a group of leading citizens with a mission of developing new approaches to global issues. The Elders is chaired by Desmond Tutu and includes Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson, and Muhammad Yunus.