This week Sir Richard Branson took a few minutes out of his globetrotting schedule to highlight a few individuals who have inspired him throughout the year. Branson named Apple CEO Tim Cook among one of those individuals.

"When Steve Jobs passed away, the world wondered whether his successor could lead with the same courage," writes Branson on Virgin company blog. "Tim Cook not only successfully took up the Apple reins, but also moved the world forward by publicly declaring he was gay and proud of it."

For years secretive about his private life, Cook came out as gay in a personal essay published by Businessweek in late October. In the essay, Cook mentioned that Apple colleagues have known about his sexual orientation and that he considered it one of the "greatest gifts" from God.

At the time the essay was published, Branson took to Twitter to praise Cook for "standing up for equality."

He echoes that sentiment in his blog post, writing, "Tim is a great example that sexuality, gender or race have no bearing on the skills, talent or character of a person."

The Virgin entrepreneur has always looked up to Apple's top brass for inspiration. Branson once commented that he had enormous admiration for Steve Jobs, even though the two had a very different leadership style. In fact, Branson said that Jobs broke all his rules when it came to running a company, and it worked.

"Sometimes my rules are meant to be broken," Branson said.

Joining Cook in Branson's most influential people of the year list is Megan Smith, former VP of Google X. Branson commends Smith's ability to turn impossible ideas into a reality ("Think the self-driving car; Google Glass; and even an artificial brain!"). In September Smith became the first female Chief Technology Officer of the United States.