Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I've Still Got Plenty of Drive to Launch New Ventures; despite His Spat with easyJet, the Serial Entrepreneur Is Working on a New Airline and a Car Rental Idea

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I've Still Got Plenty of Drive to Launch New Ventures; despite His Spat with easyJet, the Serial Entrepreneur Is Working on a New Airline and a Car Rental Idea

Article excerpt

Byline: Lucy Tobin

[bar] NYONE playing Through the Keyhole would struggle to identify the occupant of the Georgian house in Kensington that serves as the headquarters of the easyGroup empire. There's an anonymous hallway, dark mahogany bannisters and a thick beige carpet on the stairs.

Nowhere is there any evidence of the lurid orange that's the colour of choice for Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the Greek entrepreneur who is based here. It's only on turning into his boardroom that it hits you. Glaring out of a computer screen displaying the easyGroup homepage, there is information on easy-Gym, easyBus, easyHotel, easyCinema, easyOffice and, of course, easyJet.

Sir Stelios' face is lit up too. Despite the very public spat with the bosses of easyJet, his most famous creation, he has found someone else to go into business with. Lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman is coming on board for the latest incarnation of easyCar -- a neighbourhood car rental idea.

"We are the perfect team for the business," Sir Stelios says, waving at Hoberman across the table. This could be his next big splash. He could do with one. Not all of those web ventures made a big impression on the public. We've not heard much of the easy4men cosmetics business recently, or easy-Watch's timekeeping. The gym business still just has two branches, in Slough and Wood Green.

The Greek Cypriot entrepreneur is unperturbed. More than 16 years after easyJet first flew, Sir Stelios' plan for 2012 is to turn a driveway rental scheme for Mondeo Man and an African budget airline into his second and third big business successes. And he's gushing with facts.

"London has three million cars on the road, we only need a portion of those to agree to share to have a success on our hands," he says of easyCar. "Our first object is to crack the insurance and technology, then we can launch."

He thrusts me a handwritten spider diagram with "gizmo" circled in the middle and arrows leading to "immobiliser", "key" and other car parts. If the techy elements are still a work in progress, the PR is already in full force.

"We're thinking of inviting drivers to the easyCar headquarters in Park Royal and the first thousand will get their gizmos installed for free this spring.

"Both our potential brands are strong," he says, referring to Hoberman again. "While I'm a renter -- I don't have a car in this country -- he has one he never drives and wants to rent out."

At this, Hoberman looks sheepish. "My wife has our only car, a BMW X5," he says. "I'd definitely put it up for rental, but I'll have a battle on my hands."

Top of the pair's to-do list is insurance: "Since there's no such thing as pan-European insurance, we'll have to do it one country at a time when we expand overseas," Sir Stelios muses. "But if Cameron gets his way, we won't even be able to drive over."

Hoberman, whose business card reads UK Business Ambassador at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, squirms.

Sir Stelios might have cars on his mind today, but it doesn't mean the easyJet board is heading for a reprieve. The airline, in which Sir Stelios' family still controls a 38% stake, has been buffetted by a string of demands that has made for an entertaining war of words for those that haven't been involved.

Not content with securing a [pounds sterling]190 million maiden dividend for shareholders, he has threatened to unseat board members and is campaigning against them placing new plane orders. …

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