How Richard Branson Celebrated Virgin’s Victory Over British Airways
This billionaire knows how to share the wealth.
Richard Branson just may be one of the most likeable billionaires around.
His charismatic personality, charitable giving, and outlandish lifestyle make him someone worth watching. And now, a new story is shedding light on how he may be one of the most likeable bosses on the planet, too.
“Over the past 33 years, Virgin Atlantic has made a massive difference to people’s flying experience and changed the airline industry for the better,” Branson wrote in a letter to his employees posted on Virgin’s site in late July. “By focusing on our people and our customers first, we’ve raised the quality on our own planes and forced our rivals to improve their services too.”
Branson went on to share that the company’s success has helped transform the flying experience across the globe, including Virgin America and Virgin Australia. But, he added, it hasn’t always been easy for the brand, and he claimed that they nearly folded just after takeoff thanks to rival airline British Airways.
"We had about four planes flying, and [British Airways] went to extraordinary lengths to put us out of business," Branson shared on an episode of NPR's "How I Built This" podcast. "They had a team of people illegally accessing our computer information and ringing up our passengers and pretending that they were from Virgin, telling them that flights were cancelled and switching them onto BA," he wrote.
After the incident, Virgin took British Airways to court and won $945,000 in damages, which at the time was the largest libel settlement in U.K. history.
Instead of simply pocketing the cash, Branson shared in the letter that he reinvested it in the company by distributing large bonuses to all his employees at Christmas.
“We distributed the money equally to everyone who worked at Virgin at the time. I’m sure there are plenty of you who will remember receiving the ‘BA Christmas Bonus,’” Branson wrote.
Branson, who has now owned and operated the carrier for more than half his life, ended his letter by letting employees know he has a continued commitment to the brand. That future will no longer include Virgin America, as Alaska Airlines announced it will be retiring the brand in 2018 following an acquisition, but Branson expressed his continued optimism for Virgin's future.
“As I get a little older, I want to be certain that all the necessary building blocks are in place for Virgin Atlantic to continue to prosper and grow for the next 50 years. The airline industry has consolidated over Virgin Atlantic’s lifetime and it’s now our turn to put ourselves at the heart of an important alliance, to create a stronger customer champion and build an airline which provides great opportunities for our team around the world,” Branson said of the company’s partnership with Air France-KLM, Alitalia and Delta. “With these three partners in place and with me – and one day, the wider Branson family – still very much involved, we have the foundations to make sure this is so.”