The billionaire entrepreneur built his Virgin Group empire attacking niches dominated by legacy companies. Now he’s entering a market that’s out of this world.
Sir Richard Branson is in a reflective mood. Almost 40 years after the launch of the Virgin Records label vaulted him into the global consciousness, Branson is in Los Angeles to collect a special Grammy Award celebrating his contributions to the music business, and the honor finds him looking back on his transformation from industry interloper to institution.
With his black leather jacket, manicured goatee and signature long hair, the roguish Branson still looks uncannily like the London-born hippie kid who gate-crashed the music biz four decades ago, and he retains the energy and intensity that fueled the Virgin Group empire as it expanded its reach to embrace air travel, broadcasting, publishing and mobile communications. But Branson has changed: Now 61, he devotes much of his time to personal passions like The Elders, the international human rights group chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“A lot of my entrepreneurial skills now are spent in setting up not-for-profit organisations,” he says. “We’re a little more secure now, so we do things a bit differently.”
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