Pour one out for billionaire Richard Branson: The enigmatic Virgin founder has been reduced to borrowing cash against his prized private island in the Caribbean to make ends meet during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Branson broke the news in a blog after requests for government bailouts of his commercial airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia were met with indifference. The latter just entered voluntary administration.
The island is more than Branson’s luxury abode as it actually employs 175 people, Branson explained, before adding that he’s mortgaging his home (which is totally not a tax haven) to save as many jobs as possible across the entire Virgin Group.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) April 20, 2020
Branson then insisted that he often re-invests profits directly into new businesses, which means neither he nor his portfolio of companies are sitting on loads of cash.
He’d previously committed $250 million in economic relief to Virgin businesses severely impacted by the fallout of COVID-19, particularly its airlines, health clubs, and hotels.
Branson wants a bailout but happy losing billions on spaceflight
Still, Branson has effectively begged the UK government for a loan to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat, a plea that’s still under consideration.
But while Virgin Atlantic staff suffer eight weeks of unpaid leave during the COVID-19 crisis, Branson’s been understandably silent about his loss-making spaceflight venture, Virgin Galactic — beyond boasting that its factories had produced some sorely-needed medical equipment.
Thanks to a noticeable absence of revenue streams, Virgin Galactic generated just over $500,000 last quarter, and posted $55 million in losses. Branson later shifted his $1.1 billion stake in the company to the British Virgin Islands as part of an “internal restructuring,” on the same day the Dow Jones experienced its biggest one-day drop in history.
Commercial spaceflight prospects aside, Branson’s personal fortune has also dwindled. Forbes estimates he’s now worth $4.6 billion, down from $5.1. billion in 2018 — but something tells me the worst is yet to come.