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Richard Branson on Building an Empire Richard Branson built his Virgin Group empire attacking niches dominated by legacy companies. Now he's extending his entrepreneurial philosophies to a new market that's out of this world.

By Jason Ankeny

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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.

"I did a blog the other day saying, 'If you didn't know how old you are, how old do you think you would be?'" Branson says, sipping tea over brunch at the Sunset Marquis, the legendary West Hollywood hotel favored by rock 'n' roll royals. "I feel like I'm still in my 20s, although I'm obviously not. I still enjoy life enormously. I throw myself into it as much as I did when I was in my 20s."

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.