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How I Made It: Simon Wright

Optimism is a trait that works

May 16, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

The gig: Chief executive of Virgin Entertainment Group, which runs Virgin Megastores and Virgin Cinemas. Wright's decision to sell more clothing, games and electronics and less music in the face of declining CD sales has helped the retail side thrive.

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His background: Born in England but conceived in California (his parents used to live here), Wright says "it was almost my destiny to end up in Los Angeles."

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First job: Selling ice cream and doughnuts on the beach in southern France.

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Education: Business degree from Sheffield Hallam University, 1983.

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All in the family: Wright and his wife, Georgiana, have four daughters -- two sets of twins.

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Big break: In 2000, Wright became CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group after stints in Los Angeles and Britain in various capacities at Virgin. He commuted between continents until 2005, and now considers himself a full-time L.A. resident.

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What he likes about the U.S.: "The glass is always half full here."

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Favorite item sold in Virgin Megastores: CDs by Tim and Jeff Buckley

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Most awkward moment: Wright helped build Virgin's movie theater business in Japan by putting bars and restaurants in cinemas that he later sold to a Japanese company. One long night, he and the Japanese buyer negotiated six points over six consecutive hours with only a translator to keep them company. At times they sat in silence for half-hour stretches, both too stubborn to concede in the negotiations.

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VIP treatment: Wright accompanied Virgin Group founder Richard Branson to Beirut to attend the grand opening of a Virgin Megastore. When walking off the plane, they were seized by a phalanx of armed guards, escorted to a battered Cadillac and driven away quickly in the dark, not knowing where they were going. They soon arrived at another building -- the airport's VIP terminal.

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Why you might know him: Wright worked with "American Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe and British Consul General Bob Pierce to found Brit Week, the celebration wrapping up in mid-May that highlights the accomplishments of British nationals in Los Angeles. Events included a British film festival, a concert by Duran Duran and a soccer game with David Beckham. This year is the 50th anniversary of the official British presence in Los Angeles.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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