Richard Branson, Britain's 15th richest man and one of the most prominent businessmen, was voted the country's leading role model among young people. He is full of paradoxes: he is a notorious self-publicist who claims to be fiercely shy, a brilliant motivator of others who wore odd socks on the day of the launch of his airline, and a billionaire who borrows fivers without hesitation from friends and employees. And yet nobody knows what has made Branson so successgul: despite his reputation as a financial wizard, he runs a business more conspicuous for its size than its profits. Millions of pounds have been lost on such projects as "Events" listings magazine, the film "Absolute Beginners" and Virgin ventures into pubs, satellite broadcasting, clothes retailing and recording studios. And, despite the publicity reaped from a run-in with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic produces only a modest rate of return. This is a portrait of Branson which draws together the many contradictions of this upper-middle-class Englishman who singed the Sex Pistols and for whom danger is the one sensation he worships without reservation.
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