'If I went bankrupt? I'd start again. If it wasn't an airline, I'd open a corner shop'

Twenty questions answered by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder and chairman of easyGroup
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The Independent Online

1Will you really stop development at Luton because of the row over landing fees?

1Will you really stop development at Luton because of the row over landing fees?

We are not going to lift what we have at Luton, but we are going to put our growth into other airports in Europe if the fees increase. We've been negotiating with Luton for three years. We even offered to buy it from the council but they created a tender and London Luton Airport Operations won, which is 60 per cent owned by Barclays Bank. They then created an oversized, unsuitable terminal, which is totally under-utilised. It's now a Mexican stand-off with the Government sitting in the middle as umpire.

2Peter Middleton, resigned last week as chairman of Luton Airport the same day you placed a full-page advertisement in the London Evening Standard, criticising Barclays. A coincidence?

The timing was impeccable, but it was probably an accident waiting to happen. I think Peter Middleton took over with the desire to run things and soon realised that Barclays wouldn't let him get on with it. The first time I met him, he stormed out of the room.

We then exchanged some very angry letters. In fact, I should publish the last one he sent me. He said: "I used to run Lloyds when it was turning over so many billions in fees, I used to run Solomon Brothers when it was turning over so many billions on the trading floor and I'm not going to be intimidated by you and your little company." It was a very arrogant letter.

3You've bought Mercedes-Benz for your car rental business. Would you buy Rovers or BMWs?

When I said: "I want to buy 5,000 cars who will to talk to me?" every carmaker responded except for Rover. They were so badly managed that no one even returned my calls. BMW don't make a small car and the smallest is too big and too expensive.

4How many "easy ... " domain names do you own?

A few thousand. I used to spend my evenings thinking up names but realised it was a fruitless exercise. We've now resorted to algorithms and the computer has come up with 24,000 different permutations. It's impossible to register them all and some are already taken. We have a department which specialises in stamping out the parasites and squatters.

5When you float easyJet later this year, how will you cope with the constraints of running a listed company?

I'm confident I'll cope. People think I have a lot of money but I can't pay for 32 new aircraft, 4,000 cars and 60,000 computers all by myself. At some stage you need to raise outside capital. My shipping company, Stelmar, which owns 12 oil tankers, is about to enter the Cyprus Stock Exchange and I already have backing from Apax and Hewlett Packard in easyEverything. I can satisfy my desire to innovate and put all this energy into the companies I have left outside the flotation.

6If you'd been offered Bob Ayling's job at BA would you have accepted?

No way. I wouldn't have known where to start. You need a very different set of skills to turn around a supertanker that is heading for the rocks. After a few years I will still remember exactly how many terminals I have in my internet cafés because I signed the lease. It's a touchy-feely thing when you start a company. I like to build things brick by brick; I'm not a turnaround guy.

7What business proposals have you rejected?

Somebody suggested easyBoobs which was totally off the wall. I asked this guy to convince me why we would be doing a different boob job to everybody else but he couldn't think of a competitive advantage. The other suggestion was flotation tanks in my cafes. It was from a guy who stopped me in the street so I told him I'd think about it.

8Where have you got with easyBank?

We are working very hard on it but we haven't got any concrete announcements to make. It's not unusual for us to announce something then take a couple of years to execute it. Some people work in complete blackout and have meetings in car parks to avoid leaks, whereas I tell people everything about our projects.

9Are you easy to work for and what makes you lose your temper?

I'm tough but fair, and judging by the number of people who stop me in the corridor, I must be approachable. We have a very flat management structure, which is aided by a no-tie policy and open-plan offices. Everybody has access to my files. I'm very good at controlling my temper so when things go wrong I don't start screaming, I simply pick up the phone and ask what is happening. When I get really, really cross, I simply call the lawyer and sue the bastard.

10If your briefcase was about to be confiscated which three things would you take?

My presentation for tomorrow, my shaving kit and a change of clothes. I make a virtue out of travelling light.

11Why do you want to lose weight, and what do you do about this?

It's in my family. My father is overweight, my mother is overweight and I'm clearly overweight. I've been slimmer in other phases of my life but my weight fluctuates and now I'm in the phase where I think it's gone too far. It's a health thing more than anything else. The problem is the way I travel because you tend to eat what is available. I always joke that the airline was built on KFC.

12You live between Athens, Monaco and spend only 90 nights a year in the UK. Don't you get tired of living out of your briefcase?

It's become acceptable because that's what it takes to run the business. It sounds crazy, but once you begin to live like that you realise that plenty of businessmen and sportsmen live exactly the same life.

13Have you ever been tempted to take the controls?

I've had two attempts at a flight simulator and decided that flying is a serious job that should be left to the professionals. I've decided never to take it up myself because I would be a part-time pilot and that would be dangerous.

14Do you collect air miles?

I had hundreds of thousands of them, but I stopped as a matter of principle because we started suing British Airways. Our contracts state that none of our employees can collect them either.

15When you got rid of the Porsche and your expensive watch were you consciously downsizing?

It wasn't downsizing; I'd just got to the point where conspicuous consumption didn't mean anything to me. I don't have to consume conspicuously for people to know that I'm wealthy. It's difficult but I'm trying to be as close as possible to the average person in the street.

16What was the happiest day of your working life and the worst?

The happiest day was 22 May 1998 when I went on Go Airline's inaugural flight from Standsted to Rome. Me and 10 mates dressed in Orange boiler suits and spent the flight handing out free easyJet tickets. As for the worst day, well, any day there is fog at Luton is pretty bad. The all-time worst was 4 April 2000. It will go down in easyJet's history as White Tuesday because Luton was completely snowed under. We refund everybody who flies more than four hours late so we were $1m down that day. It certainly focuses the mind.

17Who gave you the impetus to succeed?

My father has always been a strong inspiration but I think my meeting with Richard Branson inspired me to change. He pointed out that just because I was the son of a shipowner didn't mean I had to be a shipowner all my life.

18What would be the worst thing about being poor?

Not having the luxury to try new things and new ideas in business. Not being able to take on the big banks and beat them at their own game.

19If you went bankrupt tomorrow would you start again?

My father has put enough aside for me never to have to work again. So I could retire to the Bahamas, but I'd probably start again. If I couldn't start an airline, I'd open a corner shop.

20What's the single task you hate doing most?

Waking up. If I'm left alone at the weekend I'm just so tired I have to sleep all day.

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