Richard Branson is going into space again!
That's exciting, share price-raising news for the space travel company he founded, Virgin Galactic (SPCE 5.15%), right? Well, not quite. See, Branson revealed in a CNBC interview that he's planning to hitch a ride on a craft operated by Virgin Galactic's rival, SpaceX.
That's not exactly good publicity for Virgin Galactic, the company he founded and still (through his Virgin Group) owns a chunky stake in. To state the obvious, corporate leaders have an obvious and clear interest in using their own company's products or services exclusively.
So, an investor could be forgiven for thinking that Branson is reaching for the exit hatch with Virgin Galactic. After all, though his related entity Virgin Investments remains a major company shareholder, it's sold off a much larger stake in a series of divestments.
But the English entrepreneur is a publicity hog. Long before Elon Musk (SpaceX's founder and apparent Branson buddy) dreamed of posting his first tweet, the Virgin Galactic founder always found a way into the world's business pages.
Similar to Musk, Branson's also a big space nerd. The free publicity engendered by every Virgin Galactic space flight (including the one that carried Branson himself last year) alone is irresistible for such a man. And being the space guy and limelight seeker he is, he'll probably never want to let go of his out-of-this-world baby entirely.
At the end of the day, however, Branson's participation or lack thereof is probably a moot point. He has no official managerial role at Virgin Galactic, which is led by an experienced and capable CEO, Michael Colglazier. The two men obviously confer, but it doesn't seem that such meetings are critical to the company's strategy. Branson himself has stated that he's not interested in "the sort of heavy-lifting side of my job."
Virgin Galactic is a very speculative stock to own, as the company has famously not yet launched the commercial space flights that will form the root of its business. It's got some challenging problems to overcome -- a series of delays, mainly -- but an important leader throwing the eject lever isn't one of them. Investors shouldn't be overly concerned with Branson punching his SpaceX ticket.