Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou (Greek: Στέλιος Χατζηιωάννου; born 14 February 1967) is a British Cypriot entrepreneur. He is the scion of a wealthy ship owning family, but is best known for founding the low-cost airline easyJet and the Stelmar shipping line with start-up funds provided by his father, Loucas Haji-Ioannou. easyJet's foundation in 1995 marked the beginning of a series of ventures marketed under the "easy" brand, managed by easyGroup and chaired by Haji-Ioannou.
Family and education
Stelios is the second of three children by Loucas and Nedi Haji-Ioannou. He was born in Athens on 14 February 1967. He has an elder brother, Polys, and a younger sister, Clelia. His father's family originates from the village of Pedoulas high in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus, while his mother is from the Potsos family of Laneia, a village at the foot of the mountains. After his secondary education in Athens, he studied Economics at the London School of Economics, graduating with a BSc in 1987. He went on to obtain an MSc in Shipping, Trade & Finance from Cass Business School. He was later awarded four honorary doctorates from Liverpool John Moores University, Cass Business School, Newcastle Business School, and Cranfield University.
A self-labelled "serial entrepreneur", Stelios started working in 1988 for his father's already successful shipping business, Troodos Shipping Co Ltd. At 25, Stelios received £30 million from his father, that he used to set up his own shipping company, Stelmar Shipping. Haji-Ioannou floated the company on the NYSE in 2001. In 2005, Stelmar Shipping was sold to the OSG Group for approximately $1.3 billion.
Exonerated in shipping accident
In April 1991, a Troodos-owned VLCC oil tanker suffered a disaster that resulted in six deaths and spilt about 50,000 tons of crude oil into the sea - arguably the Mediterranean's worst-ever ecological disaster. The tanker, M/T Haven, was an elderly vessel, formerly the Amoco Haven, sister ship of the ill-starred Amoco Cadiz that had foundered in 1978. Haji-Ioannou was accused of poor maintenance and charged, in Italy, with manslaughter and also intimidating and attempting to bribe witnesses. Haji-Ioannou blamed the accident on an error by one of the surviving crew members.
The "easy" companies
Haji-Ioannou started easyJet in 1995 when he was 28, running a service between Luton and Scotland. In 2000, easyJet PLC was partially floated on the London Stock Exchange. He and his family remain its largest single shareholders (34%) in the airline, capitalized at £6.8bn as of 20/08/15.
Haji-Ioannou conducts business via his private investment vehicle, the easyGroup, which owns the 'easy' brand and licenses it to the various 'easy'-branded ventures, including the airline. Haji-Ioannou continues to extend his business interests, mainly in the field of travel and leisure by encouraging entrepreneurs to adopt the "easy" brand for their companies.
easyJet PLC is one of Europe's largest airlines with a fleet of over 240 jets (+150 on order) carrying over 70m passengers annually.
Other travel/leisure-related businesses include:
- easyCar, which offers a peer2peer car sharing scheme as well as low cost car rental in 2,000 locations globally
- easyBus, which offers low cost bus transportation between London/Paris/Geneva airports and their respective city centres
- easyHotel, which offers low cost accommodation in city centres across Europe
- easyFoodstore is a new concept, currently being trialed with a view to offering discounted, "white-label" groceries to low-income and benefit dependent groups.
- easyGym which offers low cost, no-contract gym memberships in 14 locations in the UK, while looking to expand inside the EU.
- easyProperty which offers an on-line service to homeowners and prospective buyers as well landlords and tenants.
- easyCruise was a low-cost cruise line started in 2004 by Haji-Ioannou. It was sold in August 2009 to Greek ferry operator Hellenic Seaways for £9 million which ran it till 2010 before being defunct.
In September 2011 it was reported that Haji-Ioannou was working on Fastjet, a new low-cost airline serving routes within Africa, as part of a joint venture with Lonrho plc. The airline started operations on 29 November 2012 with Airbus A319 aircraft.
Battle with Ryanair
In 2009, Haji-Ioannou brought proceedings in London's High Court over Ryanair adverts which appeared in The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and on Ryanair's website in January and February. The adverts featured a picture of Haji-Ioannou in the style of Pinocchio and referred to him as "easyJet's Mr Late Again". The case was eventually settled out of court, with Haji-Ioannou receiving an official apology from the airline and the sum of £50,100, which Haji-Ioannou announced he would donate to his philanthropic foundation.
In 2010, Haji-Ioannou quit the board of EasyJet, in order to attempt to force the management of the company to abort their expansion plans.
In an interview with Management Today, he said: 'EasyJet is seen as a huge success, which I'm happy about, because I own the brand. But easyJet is a publicly listed company. The share price has gone up and down as it's got bigger and things have happened – but overall, really it's gone sideways.'
He then went on to say: 'Basically, it's created no shareholder value for 10 years.'
In 2013, Stelios said he had become "increasingly concerned" at easyJet's expansion plans. He announced that he sold 200,000 easyJet shares in protest against plans to buy more planes, while his siblings have done the same with their shares.
Haji-Ioannou has been a Monaco resident since his family left Athens when he was a teenager.
Politics and public life
Haji-Ioannou was a member of the New Enterprise Council, a group set up to advise the Conservative Party on business policy. He stated at the time that this appointment did not reflect his political affiliations, adding "I agreed to be included in the group of entrepreneurs because I was assured it will be non-partisan. [There is] not much difference between Left and Right any more."
On 1 April 2010, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Haji-Ioannou joined 23 other UK business leaders, including Marks & Spencer's Stuart Rose and Next's Simon Wolfson, criticising the Labour government's plans to raise National Insurance contribution rates.
The character of Omar Baba in the BBC TV comedy Come Fly With Me is reportedly based on Haji-Ioannou.
His charitable foundation, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, supports education, as well as entrepreneurial and environmental initiatives through the provision of funding and advice in the UK, Greece and Cyprus.It also sponsors annual awards with cash prizes to entrepreneurs in the UK, Greece and Cyprus.
The Foundation finances ten undergraduate scholarships annually for students taking a three-year course at his alma mater, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a further ten postgraduate awards at City University's Cass Business School (1-year course). It also gives a £50,000 cash prize to the winner of the Disabled Entrepreneur in the UK Award, run in conjunction with Leonard Cheshire Disability. Similar prizes are awarded for enterprises in Cyprus that help foster inter-communal relationships on the island and Greece where the Foundation hosts an award for young entrepreneurs.
Most recently the Foundation has joined the relief effort aimed at helping those in Greece and Cyprus worst affected by the current economic downturn. Its "Food from the Heart" initiative, based in Limassol, hands out free lunchtime snacks to registered recipients in Nicosia, Limassol and Athens. Further outlets to help cope with the refugees landing on Aegean islands are in the planning stage. (www.stelios.com)