Stelios Haji-loannou told me: “Success is a journey not a destination.” I was interviewing Stelios to obtain an insight into what makes this man tick; what makes him pursue one challenge after another, when with his background of family wealth, he need never do another days’ work.Stelios is on a seemingly endless quest for yet another success. Having founded seven companies by the age of 37, he wants to achieve more, but rumour has it that this pioneering mind is struggling.
It is a well publicised fact that his father built up his business, Troodos Shipping, from nothing into one of the world’s largest tanker operations. As the son of a Greek shipping tycoon, Stelios could have been made for life, but with what he describes as “an urge to prove myself,” he went against the grain and left the family business to start up his own ‘easy’ world.
Stelios candidly attributes his success first and foremost to “having a rich father who could bankroll my early ventures!” He was handed $30 million to start up his business on the condition that he shared any profits with his brother and sister.
And after that? “Travelling and keeping my eyes open in search of a good idea that could be turned into a business. Once you have found the idea you need to work hard at it and try to trust your own judgment or instinct”.
And trust in his own instinct Stelios does. Having floated easyJet in 2000, he then stepped down as Chairman in order to focus on other things. Honouring his fathers wish, Stelios now owns 41% of easyJet shares with his brother and sister.
Confident that his next big success will be in the ‘easy’ brand, Stelios’ stake in easyJet, worth £524.4 m, will finance his plan to expand easyGroup into a dozen diverse industries over the next five years. We have already seen the manifestation of several of these businesses; EasyInternetcafe, easyCar and easyCinema.
He is even planning to venture into telecoms where he sees an opportunity in this crowded market. He tells me: “Basically because prices to consumers can be reduced. I want to sell pre-paid mobile voice communication services over the internet. My cost structure will be lower than the 3g companies so my prices will be too”.
Although wildly diverse in their nature, there is a theme that unifies the ‘easy’ brand businesses: Direct sell, online distribution, cheap, yield management, ease of access, transparent pricing and of course no frills.
By bending the traditional rules, the ‘easy’ customer should come out on top. However one thing that Stelios will not compromise on is safety, or the law. He comments: “The high standard is in the quality of the core offering, it is the frills which are eliminated. So we never compromise on safety, security or operational integrity; but then we don’t believe that such a thing as a free lunch exists”.
But people are beginning to question whether Stelios is spreading himself too thin. Two of his ventures are losing money. He certainly admits to having regrets: “The rate of growth of easyInternetcafe was too fast. But this happened during the internet bubble when companies suddenly didn’t have to make profits to attract investors; they just needed growth and traffic”.
Yet Stelios is determined to continue extending his brand, spreading the ‘easy’ message to consumers. “We will not put all our eggs into one basket” he tells me. While his ideas may sound a little wild, they are surprisingly calculated.
The latest companies to have received the ‘easy’ hype are easyBus, easyDorm and easyCruises. There are no exact launch dates for these forthcoming projects. The ideas sound simple and yet brilliant, but one can’t help wondering how exactly they will be deployed and whether they will be anything more than a cheap bus, a modern alternative to a youth hostel and a glorified ferry.
EasyBus aims to be “the easyJet of the road”, providing low cost travel from one part of one city to another part of a second city. The service is expected to cost passengers £1 and will initially cover short and medium distance routes. 10 mercedes 16 seat minibuses have been purchased for the pilot project. People will be asked to buy in advance online for the cheapest prices.
Commenting on the rival Megabus, Stelios remarked: “Competition can only be good for consumers and I think Megabus will be a mistake. There’s nothing more expensive than running a bus which is both big and empty”.
EasyCruise, the no-frills charter, will be as cheap as £14.50pp per night.
Sailing for 6 or 7 hours a night, passengers will be able to jump on and off each day. Stelios comments: “We won’t try to keep the passengers on board to milk them of extra revenue, they can go ashore to sightsee, eat, drink, go clubbing, to the beach or any excursion they want”.
Stelios dismisses the suggestion that this will the equivalent of a ‘glorified ferry’, claiming this is a myth put out by competition who are frightened. He comments: “EasyCruise is genuinely a cruise visiting multiple destinations. It will be the cheapest way of seeing several attractive western Mediterranean destinations in as many days.”
People like cheap, but has he gone too far? How will Stelios ever complete his journey if he doesn’t know where he is going? One thing is for certain. He has garnered major attention through his pioneering ideas and through his entrepreneurialism, has created journeys for many others along the way. With such strong conviction, it is difficult to question his integrity. You can’t help but like this man.