Stelios Haji-Ioannou used his father's money to start budget airline EasyJet in 1995. But the entrepreneur is no trustafarian. In this interview with The Telegraph, Stelios talks family rivalry, mistaken identity and helping his fellow entrepreneurs.
Stelios credits his entrepreneurial flair to a childhood immersed in business. " My father, Loucas, who passed away last year, was a very successful, self-made shipping magnate in Greece, with his firm the Troodos Shipping Company," he tells The Telegraph's Sarah Ewing. "Business was always discussed at the dinner table with my mother, Nedi, my older brother, Polys, myself, and my younger sister, Clelia, and invariably he worked as much from home as he did from the office."
Stelios and Polys both went into business seperately. But was there a rivalry between the brothers? Or is blood thicker than water? "Well, I don't think it's a coincidence that the firstborn stayed in the family business and the second born, me, went off to do his own thing," says Stelios. "First born are usually happy to follow in the footsteps of their parents and second born want to step out from the shadow. I wanted to prove myself to my father and to the rest of the world that I'm not just daddy's boy."
Nevertheless, depsite borrowing the funds to launch EasyJet from his father, Stelios never had an easy ride with his startup. " Starting an airline with a surname like mine that's not easily pronounceable wasn't such an asset in a consumer-oriented business like flying. In the beginning many people used to confuse me with Harry Enfield's TV character called Stavros, who owned a kebab shop!"
Over a decade on, having made a success of his business, Stelios is keen to give back to the UK – both its economy and its entrepreneurs. "I think because our profits are generated by selling things to people, we owe them and have a debt to pay back," he says. "I like to give to causes that I'm passionate about and to which I can relate, like education, the environment and entrepreneurship, not just one big donation to a cause and then bask in the glory."
Stelios continues: "I want to create a lasting legacy that pays out year after year. This will encourage people to change their lives, their families, their local community, and teach them the skills to become successful business people. For instance, in conjunction with Leonard Cheshire Disability, I run the annual Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs. The first winner was Amar Latif, who runs a tour operator for the blind called Traveleyes, and the second was Andrew Thompson, who runs a translation company called Sign Now."
Stelios will be presenting this award at the Real Business Growing Business Awards on November 26, 2009. To book your ticket, or enter for an award, visit the Growing Business Awards page.
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