The daredevil mogul on why he breaks bread with his enemies and wants the necktie abolished

THERE ARE BUSINESS TRAVELERS—and there is Sir Richard Branson. The Virgin Group founder, known as much for his death-defying stunts in balloons and boats as for his ventures, spends much of his very busy life in transit. The entrepreneur zips between continents, projects and the extravagant sorts of leisure pursuits one would expect of the man who owns the grooviest airline in the skies.

Mr. Branson started building his global empire in the early 1970s with Virgin Records, known for launching bands like the Sex Pistols. Since selling the music company in 1992, his portfolio has expanded to include everything from wine to space travel. But he is probably best known for his airlines, which have been shaking up the industry since 1984, when a commercial flight he was on was canceled and he started selling seats on a plane he’d chartered to fellow passengers.

BRANSONNecker Island

Mr. Branson has been criticized for his readiness to take the spotlight, but his personal style of branding has paid off handsomely. Lately, he has been investing his celebrity (and funds) in a variety of causes, among them saving endangered species and promoting peaceful conflict resolution through an organization called the Elders. We caught up with the British billionaire during a layover at New York’s JFK airport, where he recently launched a new Virgin Atlantic preflight clubhouse.

I keep copious notes. Notebooks have always been a critical part of my life. If I’m on a Virgin plane, I’ll get up and meet staff, meet passengers, get feedback and write things down.

When I’m on Necker Island

[in the British Virgin Islands] about all I’ve got on is SPF—Sun Bum and also Island Company sun cream.