Tycoon rakes in £47m from easyJet, but keeps the cash in his pocket

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The Independent Online

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the entrepreneur who founded easyJet six years ago, realised £47m yesterday by selling shares in the budget airline. The Greek tycoon's family continues to own 60 per cent of the airline, having cut its stake from 72 per cent.

But Mr Haji-Ioannou, 34, remained reticent about his next move, saying he would "keep the cash in his back pocket" before sinking it into an empire which encompassed internet cafés, car rentals, online shopping and shipping.

Mr Haji-Ioannou, the son of a Cypriot shipping magnate, may invest in his chain of internet cafés. He took advantage of the dot.com craze in 1999 to put £40m into EasyInternetCafé, formerly easyEverything. However, after the initial success, the company has since lost 99 per cent of its peak value, forcing Mr Haji-Ioannou to invest a further £15m.

Earlier this year Mr Haji-Ioannou's success was confirmed when he was among only five British-based tycoons to be included in Forbes Global magazine's list of dollar billionaires, with an estimated fortune of $1.5bn (£1bn).

At the time his companies easyJet and Stelmar Shipping, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, had risen 40 per cent in value and were worth an estimated $1.2bn.

Mr Haji-Ioannou had a helping hand on his way to riches with a $117m gift from his father, Loucas. He founded his first company, Stelmar Tankers, aged 25, before going into the airline business. In 1998 he set up easyGroup to expand the brand. The result was the easyInternetCafé, easyRentacar.com, the internet-only car rental service, easyValue.com, the online shopping service, easy.com, the free e-mail business, and easyMoney, which provides financial services.

He said: "The money I will gain from selling my shares in easyJet will go in my back pocket and I will use it as I see fit to invest in my other companies. I am not in the business of declaring my spending intentions to the public."

Mr Haji-Ioannou, a chairman of seven companies, has developed a Richard Branson-like capacity for publicity and appears in advertisements for his companies. It came as a disappointment when he anticipated that Tony Blair and his family would fly easyJet for their summer holiday to France this year only to discover they would fly instead with a rival airline, Ryanair. The tycoon had even launched an advertising campaign in which the company declared: "Be an easyJet-setter ... just like Tony Blair."

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