Triumph Over Dyslexia: Entrepreneur Richard Branson

Apr 01, 2011

An educator once told Richard Branson, 'You will either go to prison or become a millionaire.' In fact, Branson overcame severe dyslexia to become the adventure-loving, multi-billionaire head of mega-conglomerate Virgin Group.

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By Megan Driscoll

Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Richard Branson, Superstar

The first thing most people think of when they hear the name Richard Branson is 'money.' The second thing, given his outsize personality and adventurous reputation, is probably 'a little crazy.' But the last thing that's likely to come to mind is 'learning disability.'

Richard Branson is the head of Virgin Group, a massive conglomeration of more than 400 enterprises that include airlines, mobile service providers, a soda company, space tourism, a wine maker, green energy, a publisher and even a video gaming competition. Oh yeah, and there's Virgin Megastores, formerly Virgin Records, the 'virgin' company in Virgin Group that closed its doors in the U.S. and U.K. a few years ago.

All this commercial activity has paid off. In 1999, the U.K. knighted the Virgin Group leader for 'services to entrepreneurship' - his full name is now Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson. And in 2010, Forbes listed him as the 212th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of about £2.97 billion (roughly $4 billion).

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A Virgin Entrepreneur

These days, Branson makes success look easy. He's got an instinct for business that keeps him in competition with some of the world's biggest companies - by some accounts, Virgin Cola is bigger than Pepsi in Europe. But he's also agile enough to be constantly pursuing new opportunities, like building the world's first tourist flight into space.

However, Branson faced a lot of challenges growing up. He was so cripplingly dyslexic that he was repeatedly humiliated in school. And because he was raised in a time when dyslexia was not widely known - Branson was born in 1950 - he was simply considered a failure when it came to things like IQ tests.

But the young Branson's ambitious spirit would not be suppressed. He demonstrated a natural talent for entrepreneurship at age 17 when he started Student, a newspaper that aimed at all student-age British youth. Unlike conventional school newspapers, this publication reached out to young people at all institutions through articles on rock stars, film celebrities and even politicians and intellectuals. He turned it into a profit-seeking entity by selling ads to corporations.

A few years after Student launched, Branson and his team began selling mail order records through the newspaper. The venture was so successful that they decided to spin off into a record store. . . . And the first Virgin Records was born. (Legend has it that the name 'Virgin' was suggested by one of his cohorts, who was inspired by the fact that they were all 'virgins at business.')

Branson chose not to succumb to the conventional wisdom that his struggles in school would doom him to a life of failure. Instead, he overcame his learning disability and found an alternative path to success - and that should be inspirational to us all.

World-renowned artist Chuck Close also overcame severe learning disabilities on his path to success.

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