LONDON, England (CNN) -- Leaving school at 16 is not normally the route to success. But Richard Branson did just that, setting up a magazine and then entering the record business.
Now his brand is behind more than 300 companies -- from cola to trains, from phones to planes making Virgin a global name. Soon Virgin will reach galactic proportions. In 2009 Richard Branson hopes to take tourists into space.
CNN's Todd Benjamin caught up with the billionaire in London and asked what drives him to create such a diverse enterprise.
Branson: What drives me to create a lot of different businesses is simply a feeling that we can, most likely, do it better than other people in particular areas. We won't create a business if somebody else is doing it really well, the only time we'll create one is if it's not being done well.
Benjamin: How would you describe your own personality?
Branson: I love people, I love to learn. I never went to university so I see my life as one long university education I never had. I'm very inquisitive, hence the fact we've gone to 350 different businesses, which is quite unusual for a western company.
Benjamin: You run your companies as a series of independent companies. What do you look for in your key lieutenants?
Branson: Number one, the Virgin brand is absolutely paramount, they must do nothing to damage the reputation of the brand. And the second thing is to look after their team of people.
Benjamin: Your headmaster when you left high school said to you ''Branson, congratulations, I predict you'll either go to prison or become a millionaire.'' What was it in your character that you think made him make that observation?
Branson: Well I suspect the fact that at age 13 I'm writing him letters on how he could organize the catering better and how the school could save money, and if they save money they could then put it into better facilities for the students. And I managed to persuade him to give me a study to start my magazine and it was only when he actually finally came to me and said "Look, you're either going to have to do your school work or your magazine," that I said "Well, goodbye. I'm off to do the magazine, but thanks very much."
Benjamin: In your autobiography you write about being four-years-old and your mother stops the car and makes you get out and what does she make you do?
Branson: We were on the way to my grandmother's house in Devon, and I think about three miles before we got there she made me get out and told me to find my own way to my grandmother's house. Basically, her approach was to try and get us to stand on our own two feet and she went to extreme measures sometimes to do so.
Benjamin: Without your persona do you think the Virgin brand could have ever become what it became?
Branson: I think the particular Virgin brand perhaps needed me, in the past, to get out there and be adventurous, and therefore to give the brand an adventurous feeling; take on the big guys, which we did, and beat the big guys and that's what's created the Virgin brand. I think now if my balloon pops, or the space ship just continues to go into space, or whatever, I think the brand is strong enough to withstand all that and it'll continue to grow. E-mail to a friend