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Sir Richard Branson

Choice quotes

  • "I wasn't really interested in being an entrepreneur, but I had to become one to keep my magazine going"
  • "Business opportunities are like buses: there's always another one coming"
  • "I believe in benevolent dictatorship - provided I am the dictator"
  • "With the casino and the beds, our passengers will have at least two ways to get lucky on one of our flights" 
Sir Richard Branson

It's hard, given the acceptability of 'smart casual' in so many workplaces, to imagine a time when a businessman eschewing the tie provoked astonishment in the national press.

But an open collar, not to mention his willingness to sign the Sex Pistols when no other company would touch them, made Sir Richard Branson something of a maverick and helped make him the poster boy of many a wannabe entrepreneur coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s.

Turning business into a personality cult was only one way in which Branson defied received wisdom on how to make money

Breaking the staid, pinstriped stereotype of the businessman, he brought hippie ethics and punk's can-do, anti-authoritarian spirit to the world of commerce - despite being educated at Stowe, one of England's top public schools.

Turning business into a personality cult was only one way in which Branson defied received wisdom on how to make money. Since he began his career by launching a mail-order record company in 1970, he has taken the 'Virgin' brand - so called because Branson was a virgin in business - into sectors as diverse as aviation, insurance, cosmetics, mobile phones and the railways.

In the 1990s he even had two bids to run the National Lottery rejected - despite promising to give all profits to charity. The profusion of companies under the Virgin umbrella was living proof that brand value accrued in one industry could be transferred to others, and trump the proven expertise of more experienced players.

Analysts have criticised the Virgin Group's forays into a host of unconnected areas, but it hasn't stopped Branson from amassing a personal fortune of £3bn, putting him seventh in last year's Sunday Times Rich List.

If that is not stratospheric enough for a man once dismissed as a hippie with dreadful taste in cardigans, his embryonic space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, aims to take civilians - albeit super-rich civilians given the £100k price tag - into space in 2009.

Born in 1950, Sir Richard's penchant for pushing the boundaries shows no signs of abating. He has tried, with varying degrees of success, to cross the Atlantic and the English Channel by hot air balloon and boat.

Branson is a keen campaigner on climate change, and has offered a $25m reward to anyone who can come up with a commercially viable way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He has also pledged to plough £1.6bn of profits from his travel firms into research on renewable energy technologies.

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