MANY TIMES A VIRGIN

FUN-SEEKING CHAIRMAN RICHARD BRANSON LOVES TO PLAY THE ECCENTRIC, BUT HIS COMPANY'S EXPANSION STRATEGY IS RIGHT OUT OF THE PROCTER & GAMBLE PLAYBOOK

A huge silver ball slides ever so deliberately down the pulsing neon face of a building in Times Square, and off leaps one of the world's most wildly imaginative entrepreneurs. It is Richard Branson, the raffish British tycoon who has splashed his company's Virgin logo on everything from airlines to a bridal service. The occasion: the opening of a $15 million, biggest-anywhere, 75,000-sq.-ft. new Virgin music-and-entertainment megastore.

Branson, a self-described "adventure capitalist," is a business-creation engine who was clearly born in the wrong place. In England wealth is traditionally inherited rather than created, which makes him an odd duck in the...

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