Richard Branson bootstrapped his way from record-shop owner to head of the Virgin empire. Now he's focusing his boundless energy on saving our environment.

Why you should listen

He's ballooned across the Atlantic, floated down the Thames with the Sex Pistols, and been knighted by the Queen. His megabrand, Virgin, is home to more than 250 companies, from gyms, gambling houses and bridal boutiques to fleets of planes, trains and limousines. The man even owns his own island.

And now Richard Branson is moving onward and upward into space (tourism): Virgin Galactic's Philippe Starck-designed, The first Burt Rutan-engineered spacecraft, The Enterprise, completed its first captive carry in early 2010 and is slated to start carrying passengers into the thermosphere in 2012, at $200,000 a ticket.

Branson also has a philanthropic streak. He's pledged the next 10 years of profits from his transportation empire (an amount expected to reach $3 billion) to the development of renewable alternatives to carbon fuels. And then there's his Virgin Earth Challenge, which offers a $25 million prize to the first person to come up with an economically viable solution to the greenhouse gas problem.

What others say

“There is luck, and then there is Richard Branson luck.” — The New Yorker, May 14, 2007

Richard Branson’s TED talk

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