Associated Press

Billionaire Richard Branson to join Obama, Oprah at Utah tech conference

By Liesl Nielsen, | Posted - Dec 6th, 2018 @ 12:47pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Billionaire business magnate Richard Branson is coming to Salt Lake City in March to headline a local tech conference.

Branson is the founder of the “Virgin” brand name, including spaceflight company Virgin Galactic and airline company Virgin Atlantic. He will keynote at Qualtrics’ annual user summit, along with former U.S. President Barack Obama and TV legend Oprah.

Qualtrics is known to draw extremely high-profile guests for its conferences, welcoming Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, basketball legend Magic Johnson and skateboarding icon Tony Hawk at its 2018 conference.

Utah’s tech scene has also already brought several big names to the Beehive State this year. Local tech education company Pluralsight introduced activist Malala Yousafzai during its annual conference, just a year after welcoming Michelle Obama, and business tech company Domo snagged former NBA coach Phil Jackson at its conference this year.

Branson, however, may be worth more than all those guests combined. The businessman’s net worth is close to $5 billion, according to Forbes.

Also known as Sir Richard Branson, the English entrepreneur got his start almost 50 years ago when he dropped out of school as a teenager and began his first successful business venture with the magazine “Student,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

When the magazine began to lose money, he started a mail-order record business, which eventually became Virgin Records — so named because Branson considered himself inexperienced in business, Britannica reports. Since then, Branson has grown the Virgin brand to include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Megastores, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media, among others — though some of those subsidiaries have since been sold to other companies.

In 1986, Branson was part of a two-man team that set a record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a powerboat, and a year later, he and Swedish aeronaut Per Lindstrand became the first team to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, according to Britannica. Then the pair made history again four years later when they crossed the Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon. Branson has also attempted several round-the-world, hot air balloon trips, though none have been successful.

Besides his financial success and world record stunts, however, Branson is also known for his philanthropic efforts, including a pledge of about $3 billion to fund environmentally-friendly fuel research, Britannica reports. He received the Citizen of the Year Award in 2007 from the United Nations Correspondents Association for his “sustained support of humanitarian and environmental causes.”

His published autobiography was last updated in 2011 entitled “Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way.”

Branson’s visit comes just months after Qualtrics announced that the company will be acquired by German multinational software company SAP for $8 billion. It is the second-largest acquisition of a private tech company in history.

Qualtrics’ conference will be held March 5-8 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. The early-bird price for attendees is $999, though returning conference goers can usually get a discount.

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