It isn't easy to pin down a peripatetic billionaire such as Sir Richard Branson.

Over the course of three months, the possible locales for an interview I was keen to have with him kept changing: South Africa, Madagascar, London, New York City and Necker, his private island in the Caribbean. Finally, on a Wednesday (July 4th, actually), I was asked if I could get to Cancun, Mexico, that weekend to meet with him. "Virgin flies there direct from L.A.," Nick Fox, his communications director, told me-wink, wink. I am based in Los Angeles. And I got the hint; I booked my flight on Virgin, which of course is one of many companies owned by Branson.

Stepping out of my taxi in Mayakoba, a resort community just south of Cancun, I was greeted with a mojito and found myself staring straight at the actress Sofia Vergara, who happened to be staying at the same hotel as I-the Rosewood, one of the most spectacular eco resorts in the world.

Branson wasn't on the property. But I soon came to find out that his universe is infective-its positive energy pulling in or somehow pulling up next to great people, good times and adventurous experiences. Indeed, over the course of several days I would find myself, thanks to Branson, swimming with sharks in the open waters 35 miles off the coast, drinking margaritas in a cave underneath the Mayan ruins, watching the winner of the U.K.'s X Factor perform and gazing at an amazing fireworks display over the Caribbean waters.

The life of a billionaire doesn't suck, not Branson's life anyway. And guess what? He knows it. And guess what else? He's not an ass about it; he's right there with you on the bus or in the same boat as everybody else.

P.S.: This was all business.

The Virgin flight was obvious; the Rosewood was where two of Branson's key executives were staying, making it easier to schedule my time and shuttle to him. The swimming with sharks was an activity to promote a nonprofit he is involved with; the party under the ruins, an event to celebrate Virgin's new flight route from London to Cancun; ditto, the fireworks.
Business can be productive and fun. Business can be productive and matter. Life doesn't have to be so buttoned up. Loosen up, in fact. This is the Virgin creed.

Branson opens the door to his suite halfway. He is barefoot in swim trunks and a polo shirt emblazoned with a resort's logo. A freebie?  He looks exactly like he does in photos and on television: the unmistakable beard and shoulder-length blond hair, blue eyes ablaze with excitement and energy. This is a man who is worth an estimated $4.2 billion, is chairman of Virgin Group, which includes some 400 companies, and who has sailed, ballooned and jetted his way around the world. Some of these adventures have even set world records. His first words to me are of the mundane, however.
"Have you eaten?" he asks.

A couple of minutes later we are beachside at a café munching on fried seafood.

On the way to meet him, Christine Choi, his New York-based public relations executive, who travels so much that she has long forgotten time zones and weekends, told me that Branson had just given an interview where the journalist asked, "If he could be any type of animal what would it be?" It's a terrible question for a journalist to ask because it's rather meaningless. "Don't ask that," she advised.

First « 1 2 3 4 5 » Next