Sir Richard Branson is Britain's most admired business leader, according to a poll of top bosses.

The Virgin tycoon was voted the runaway winner by a survey of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 chairmen, chief executives and chief financial officers, non-executive directors, lawyers, accountants and headhunters.

The runners up in the poll published today in Sunday Times Business were the vacuum cleaner designer Sir James Dyson and the late Lord Weinstock, who built GEC into an electrical and engineering empire.

Dominic O'Connell, business editor of The Sunday Times, said: "This is the authentic insider's view on who has made the biggest impact on British business over the past five decades. We asked business leaders to rate their peers - and Branson came out on top by a good margin.

"He has his critics, but this is a tribute to his longevity, and his impact across a big number of industries."

The poll also showed a "marked predilection for industrialists", he said, adding: "Our highest-rated businesspeople included Sir James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame, Sir Ernest Harrison, the man who brought us the mobile phone, and Arnold Weinstock, the former boss of GEC. Away from manufacturing, the stars were Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco and Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP."

The poll comes a week ahead of the newspaper's business section's 50th anniversary.