At age 63, the London-born founder of the Virgin Group empire still retains the vitality of the young daredevil who shook up the music industry with his record label in 1972. He is known as much for his death-defying stunts -- he established records crossing the Atlantic in a boat and the Pacific in a hot-air balloon -- as for his business acumen. His high tolerance for risk, both personally and professionally, has paid dividends, netting him a personal fortune of $4.6 billion, according to the most recent Forbes estimate.
Among world-class entrepreneurs, though, some are richer than Branson. A few, including Elon Musk, are as visionary. But no one else has the same boldness, the same willingness to bet the farm again and again. Apple's "Think Different" ads in England featured him alongside Einstein and Gandhi as a transformative figure of the 20th century.
He is a man of surprising contrasts -- devil-may-care and socially conscious, shy and publicity-seeking, both a dreamer and a doer. His nearly 50-year career has led him from record sales to commercial space travel, with forays along the way into telecommunications, airlines, railways, vodka, biofuels and much more. The United Kingdom-based Virgin Group encompasses more than 400 companies around the world.
But there is a method to his seeming madness. Branson again and again has pursued what he is passionate about, entering an industry only if the existing options frustrate the hell out of him. "There is no point in going into a business unless you can make a radical difference in other people's lives," Branson told Entrepreneur magazine last year.
In that spirit, we're turning Entrepreneur.com over to him for all of Labor Day weekend -- his most popular columns, his best business advice. Whether or not you see yourself as a "tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker" like Branson, the blond-maned billionaire can surely teach you a thing or two about achieving success. After all, this is the guy whose interest in life comes from setting "huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them," as he wrote in his autobiography, Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way (Crown, 1999).
If you can bring even a fraction of his energy and enthusiasm back to work with you after the holiday, you'll be doing all right.