'Jolly Greek giant' joins billionaires' club as tycoons go back to basics for success

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Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the 34-year-old Greek entrepreneur whose empire encompasses shipping, netsurfing and the easyJet airline, was among five British-based businessmen to be welcomed yesterday into the international "billionaires' club".

Although he is still a few deals away from the wealth of Bill Gates – the world's richest man, with $58.7bn – Stelios is worth around $1.5bn and is rated the 336th richest person in the world in a list of the world's 538 billionaires published yesterday by Forbes Global magazine.

The flamboyant "jolly Greek giant" is best known for his Luton-based budget airline, which has spawned offshoots involving car rentals and online shopping as well as his mushrooming internet cybercafé business, easyeverything. However, he owes his place among the superich as much for the family business – shipping.

Since they went public last year, his companies easyJet and Stelmar Shipping, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, have risen 40 per cent in value and are worth an estimated $1.2bn.

Recognition of his wealth came as Stelios – who founded his fortune with a $117m gift from his Cypriot father Loucas – launched his online bank, EasyMoney. Yesterday he outlined a Bransonesque mission to launch "one new business a year".

Researchers from Forbes concluded that the list of 13 billionaires based in Britain told a story of "back to basics" for the British economy after the crash in confidence in the hi-tech sector. Louisa Kroll, co-editor of the 15th annual Forbes rich list, said: "It could be a case of going back to basics because of the amount of wealth in the retail and property sectors. I was struck by how dominant they were."

The supermarket tycoon Kenneth Morrison has become a dollar billionaire in the past year, and is ranked 292 with a fortune estimated at $1.7bn.

Britain's richest man, the Duke of Westminster, has become even richer, and his property portfolio of 300 "golden acres" in Belgravia and Mayfair was worth £6.5bn when calculations were made on 21 May.

Another new billionaire, Earl Cadogan, provides further proof of the value of bricks and mortar, with his 90 acres in Chelsea making him Britain's second richest property owner.

Mark Dixon, a 41-year-old entrepreneur from Essex who launched his career with the Dial-a-Snack sandwich business, was the fourth new billionaire, after he cashed in on the trend for "instant officing" and floated his office-leasing firm Regus for $1.6bn.