Richard Branson loses £1.5 billion from plummeting Virgin Orbit shares amid funding crisis

Richard Branson (Virgin)
Richard Branson (Virgin)

Sir Richard Branson has lost a staggering £1.5 billion from his stake in Virgin Orbit over the past year after the company’s share price plummeted more than 95%.

The billionaire entrepreneur’s share in the New York-listed business had been worth as much as $1.9 billion a year ago, but a series of setbacks including a failed rocket launch attempt and a funding crisis have left his stake worth less than $50 million.

Last night, the beleaguered company abruptly sacked 85% of its workforce, amounting to nearly 700 employees as a result of what it called its “inability to secure meaningful funding.”

“We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic and extremely painful changes,” Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart told employees, according to CNBC.

Virgin Orbit said it would complete the layoffs by the beginning of next week and incur charges of approximately $15 million relating to severance costs. Its shares sunk a further 50% in after-market trading.

In January the firm’s attempt at its first ever launch from UK ended in failure after the system “experienced an anomaly” at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine, ending the mission prematurely.

Although failed rocket launches can be common, the hotly-anticipated inaugural attempt by Virgin Orbit was seen as a major milestone for the UK’s ambitions to become a major hub for satellite launches. Currently, satellites developed in the UK have to be launched overseas, thwarting the global competitiveness of the industry.

Virgin Orbit boss Dan Hart said: “The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.

Branson has a net worth of £3.8 billion according to an estimate by the Evening Standard.