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Be Like Branson Is the man who treats life--and business--as an extreme sport more like you than you think?

By Sara Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If Richard Branson has nine lives, he's on at least his fourth or fifth. He has attempted to navigate the Atlantic in a powerboat, cross the Pacific in a hot air balloon and leap into thin air on a skydiving expedition. The boat sank, the balloon caught on fire and, during his skydiving freefall, Branson pulled the wrong releas e tag, jettisoning his parachute. He's a high roller gambling with the biggest stake of all: his life. Yet somehow he always comes out alive--and ahead. He's not only the closest thing we have to a real James Bond, he's also living proof that big risks do pay off. Parlaying his daredevil approach for life to the business world, he's built the Virgin brand to encompass approximately 200 companies spanning dozens of countries and industries, and a net worth valued at $5 billion.

So it's fitting that I'm scheduled to interview Branson, 58, on the southern tip of Manhattan, moments before he announces that he'll be attempting to set yet another world record. This time, he's sailing across the Atlantic. The time to beat: six days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds. His transportation of choice: a 99-foot Super Maxi yacht sporting the Virgin Money brand on its sweeping sails. (Having just forged into the U.S. financial services industry last year, Branson couldn't pass up the strategic opportunity to create some buzz around the new brand.) Icebergs, severe temperatures and 3,000 miles await, and in true Branson style, the departure time is designed to coincide with hurricane winds. "We're about to head off, we're looking for a hurricane to come behind us, and we're going to see if we can be the fastest people to cross the Atlantic," says Branson, who is dressed casually in red-and-white sneakers and a blue collared shirt tucked into jeans, but will soon change into Virgin-branded sailing clothes for the upcoming press conference. Not to be missed is his trademark all-encompassing Branson smile. For the first time ever, Branson will be racing against time accompanied by his two children, Holly, 26, and Sam, 23. And because Branson is Branson, the world is poised to watch.

As I sit on a bench in the shadow of this iconic entrepreneur who first entered the scene big-time with Virgin Music in the ?s and has stayed in the spotlight ever since with airline, rail and soon-to-be space travel brands, I ask what scares him. If his family's health or well-being were ever compromised, that would scare him, he responds immediately. As for his own numerous brushes with death, the sense of fear is fleeting: Cheating death becomes just another challenge. "There are moments when things have gone wrong in adventures where I've certainly been scared," he says. "But equally, I've realized that just like in business, I have to stay completely focused. I haven't got the time or the energy to spend getting scared."

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