The corridors of power…

It’s hard work being a reporter.

Queuing for customs at LA, I caught a glimpse of Branson’s passport.

It was so thumbed with use that the numbers were barely legible. He told me that he was flying back to London on the same plane so that he could spend Sunday with his family.

Branson is back in the news with plans to float his Australian no-frills airline, Virgin Blue. He was in Sydney over a weekend, giving interviews, and by Monday was in New York, pressing for concessions in the US market.

Clearly, he has lost none of his appetite for travel.

The truth is, Branson knows that he has to be there. He once told me that he hates all the clowning around that goes with his launches, but he knows it will get publicity.

The original Virgin business, built around records and an airline, has become a complicated enterprise in which the Virgin brand is shared with any number of partners. Branson is the lynchpin that binds the whole thing together.

Those who have worked with Branson say he is happy to build businesses, sustaining losses, then when necessary, sell bits of the empire to pay his way. This model does not sit comfortably with the City’s appetite for short-term results. In floating Virgin Blue, Branson risks a repeat of the late ’80s when Virgin did a brief stint as a publicly quoted company.

Virgin was making profits, but the share price did not reflect it.

Branson is an inspirational businessman, but he does not take criticism well. Floating Virgin Blue is one thing – but his experience at the hands of the City is one he will not wish to repeat.

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