LONDON -- Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson is one of the world's most well-known and visible entrepreneurs. Recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, the word "tycoon" would normally apply to a businessman with his financial and political clout.

But it never is. The image of a tycoon is of a voracious, smart-suited money hunter trampling all before him. It's an image Branson has enjoyed avoiding. The 49-year-old from southern England is the original middle-class, English hippie (i.e., not a real hippie). His airline, Virgin Atlantic, was once referred to by the media as the "hippie airline," while his autobiography, "Losing My Virginity," describes him early on in his career as leaning decidedly toward a sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll-type lifestyle (his bankers once said they knew he was in trouble if he wore a suit to see them).

But the one-time journalist wannabe (his dyslexia wouldn't have helped going down that road) made the transition from "almost" to "made it" without even noticing. One day he was thinking big; the next, he was big.