If any of you have flown easyJet, stayed in an easyHotel, or rented an easyCar, then you know this serial entrepreneur. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou defines the entrepreneurial spirit, both by his success in developing businesses and in giving back to the community. He offers a multitude of best practices that I think all entrepreneurs, whether just starting out or in business for years, will find beneficial.
As the son of a wealthy Greek shipping tycoon, it would have been easy for Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou to sit back and take it easy. But instead, he worked to amass his own fortune by establishing a business empire that continues to expand and succeed. His first endeavor was at age 25 with the shipping company Stelmar, funded in part with a loan from his father. With its success, Haji-Ioannou founded easyJet, now a well-known budget airline throughout Europe. The multitude of easyGroup companies soon followed.
"I was just lucky with easyJet. I took an enormous risk with my family's fortune back in the 90s and I was lucky to have been in the right place and at the right time when the European airline industry was deregulating and with the right father to give me a lot of money to bet on new aircraft. And it worked."
Haji-Ioannou is of the strong belief that once you've built a successful venture and want to move on to other opportunities, then you need to put your trust in a manager to carry on your vision. "Entrepreneurs mess around, once you've proven the business model leave it alone and get a manager in, and hire a proven manger."
For entrepreneurs working towards developing a brand, Haji-Ioannou's model is one to use as a guide. "Your brand is created out of customer contact and the experience your customers have of you." As the owner of easyGroup.com, Haji-Ioannou created a business empire with easyBus.com, easyCar.com, easyCinema.com, easyCruise.com, easy4men.com, easyHotel.com, easyInternetcafe.com, easyJet.com, easyJobs.com, easyMobile.com, easyMoney.com, easyMusic.com, easyOffice.com, easyPizza.com, easyValue.com, easyVan.com and easyWatch.com.
The Greek-Cypriot entrepreneur revels that his secret to success is to "Look at companies where the consumers are paying out of their own pockets and give them a product at the right price and they will take it; Choose a product/service where when you reduce the price more consumers buy; Look at the yield management, which is the same product given at different prices; Eliminate the frills; Under promise and over deliver; and Don’t expand too fast."
During these challenging economic times, Haji-Ioannou, like other entrepreneurs, is trying to position his companies to make it through the uncertainty. "Remember, risk and reward is asymmetrical. You can't risk having to raise debt or equity in a deep recession. I believe that the competitive landscape will not be as benign as we think it will be. I think we are entering an era of big government."
Haji-Ioannou, who is worth over $700 million, is committed to giving back to his community and helping other entrepreneurs. He provides over 200 scholarships to his alma maters, the London School of Economics and Cass Business School in London, to support young, exceptional scholars; he created the Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year award to recognize entrepreneurs who have overcome limitations to start their businesses; he co-founded CYMEPA to preserve the marine environment in Cypress; he established the Stelios Award for Business Cooperation in Cyprus; he supports the Pendeli Reforestation project in Greece; he established the Stelios Haji-Ioannou Award for Entrepreneur of the Year in Greece; and he established the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation to recognize far-reaching aspirations, innovative ideas and measurable change.
It is for his services to entrepreneurship that Haji-Ioannou received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2006. "I am very passionate about encouraging and recognizing entrepreneurial spirit, and seeking out and celebrating business ability."
His advice to budding entrepreneurs is threefold: "Pay attention to the detail of a business, those mistakes in the business model may be small now but they are compounded by growth. Don’t overestimate what consumers will pay for something that saves them time. Don’t bet the farm on your business, put enough in to have enough skin in the game, an amount that is meaningful but leaves an amount small enough for you to survive."
Photograph courtesy of easyGroup