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Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou: at the crossroads of entrepreneurship and philanthropy in Monaco

sir stelios foundation
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou © Stelios Philanthropic Foundation

He may have stepped down from the helm of the airline, but easyJet’s founder continues to run a sprawling empire from the Principality and to protect his brand, a veritable stroke of marketing genius. 

Highly active in Monaco, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou devotes a significant part of his time to the charitable works of his Foundation, to which he has promised to bequeath most of his wealth.

Sir Stelios Foundation
Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – Photo all rights reserved

There’s an unusual buzz on Monaco’s Port Hercule on this March morning in 2023. A plume of smoke rises over the water. Intrigued, onlookers start to gather. Some take out their phones to film the scene.

With sirens blaring, several fire engines race towards the quayside. The firemen rush on to a fifty-metre yacht moored in the Monegasque harbour. Several ‘victims’ of the fire are evacuated.

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The tension subsides. The fire drill is over. It may have been a routine training session for the Monegasque firefighters, but they will no doubt take away a unique memory, since they boarded Fly me to the moon, the luxury yacht loaned for the occasion by an equally unique Monegasque resident, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

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Monaco firefighters bring the blaze under control aboard Sir Stelios’ yacht © Monaco Info via Facebook

There’s no shortage of yachts in the harbour. The fact that Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou was chosen for the Monegasque firefighters to hone their skills speaks volumes about the prominent position held in the Principality by the Cypriot-born businessman. A very special position, at the crossroads of flamboyant entrepreneurial success and boundless philanthropy.

‘Achieve a lot, to give a lot back to society’ could be Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s motto. From the shores of Cyprus to Monaco’s charity dinners, via airport runways all over Europe, we look back at the journey of a Monegasque resident who has turned the Principality into a veritable ‘hub’ from which to spread his success and generosity beyond its borders.

easyGroup, 30 years of  « brand value » success

It’s impossible to talk about Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou without mentioning easyJet; when he launched one of the first low-cost airlines in the late 1990s, the entrepreneur transformed the air travel industry for ever. But it’s also impossible to reduce the businessmen’s career to that success alone. Stelios Haji-Ioannou has, since 2010, gradually withdrawn from easyJet’s management, while remaining one of the company’s main shareholders, with a 15% stake. 

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Under the combined effect of Covid-19, Brexit and internal disagreements, the company recently hit an air pocket that has had repercussions on its payroll and share price And, after a long tussle with its management, Stelios Haji-Ioannou finally agreed to the purchase of nearly sixty new Airbus aircraft in 2022.

easyJet celebrated 10 years at Nice airport in 2022 – © easyJet

That no longer seems to be the main preoccupation for the Monegasque resident. While easyJet is and will remain “his” baby, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou now spends most of his time and energy on the “easy family”.

A veritable empire, founded three decades ago around the easy brand, which now comprises over a thousand registered trademarks: easyJet, of course, but also easyHotel, easyCar, easyMoney, easyStorage, easyBus, easyFly, easyHub, easyProperty, easyCoffee, easyGym, easyFerry, easyStorage, easyTech, easyKiosk, easyInsure, easyCinema, easyCruise, easyRentacar, easyInternetcafe, easyContainer, easyTruck, easyFood, easyMusic, easyTelecom, easyTravel, easyMobile, easyJobs, easyGaming, easyWatch, easyTaxi, easyVan, easyAir, easyFootball, easyTrain, easyCurrency, easyCoach, easyEnergy, easyDogwalker, easyParking, easyArt, easyMortgage and many more.

As simple as it is efficient, easyGroup’s business model is based on income from the licensing of the easy brand to a wide variety of companies. For example, easyGroup receives 0.25% of the price of each flight ticket purchased on

Almost every time, this “brand value” model has been successful for the “serial entrepreneur,” who celebrated  easyGroup’s 30th anniversary at the beginning of the year and who organises the annual meetings of the “easy Family” in Monaco. 

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“The best business idea I ever had was starting a low-cost airline,”  Sir Stelios readily acknowledges: “The second-best business idea I had was to keep the ‘easy’’ name in my private company, so that I could expand the brand and retain ownership of the name.”  

The name – and the famous white and orange visual identity – are now worth a small fortune. And, no surprises, some people are jealous.

Members of the easyGroup family gathered in Monaco in 2024 © easyGroup

easy, a fiercely protected brand

An incredible stroke of marketing genius, the easy brand is the subject of recurring legal battles, with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou determined to enforce his intellectual property – and, of course, his main source of income – for his family and charitable actions.

On a crusade against what he calls «brand thieves», the businessman has no qualms about going after anyone who tries to “create confusion” by using the name and reputation of his life’s work. 

Last December, the founder of Easy LiveAuction, an online auction site, was ordered to pay easyGroup £180,000 for misleading the consumer. Previously, Easy Car Credit Limited also had to settle with the billionaire.

easyGroup © all rights reserved

Very attached to his brand, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou has also not shied away from suing several artists – the English group Easy Life or DJ Easyfun – for having, even indirectly, damaged its reputation. 

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Why go after these usurpers? “Brand theft is profitable,” the Monegasque resident explains, “because it is the deliberate misleading of the consumer to think that they are part of the easy family in order to increase their own sales. It is not an innocent mistake, but a deliberate strategy to maximise their profits without being subject to easyGroup Ltd’s quality controls and without paying their annual royalties.”

As he points out, “It is the collective and exceptional efforts of the easy family members that have turned the easy brand into such a trusted institution.” So, there is no question of letting that trust be eroded by a few unscrupulous individuals.

A visionary, disrupting the European air travel market

Trust takes a long time to build and a moment to be destroyed. Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou is well aware of this, having spent over three decades building his empire.

Born in 1967 in Athens, young Stelios is the son of the Greek shipowner Loukas Haji-Ioannou. Self-taught, his father, of Cypriot origin, is the founder of Troodos Shipping, which made its fortune by acquiring old tankers. After studying at the prestigious London School of Economics and a master’s degree from London’s City University (Cass Business School), Stelios took his first steps in the business world by joining his father’s company.

But the young man had loftier ambitions and, at only 25 years old, he went solo, founding his own shipping company, Stelmar Tankers. “I wanted to prove that I wasn’t just a daddy’s boy,”  Sir Stelios recalled in an interview with the Irish Business Post last winter.

“When I was in my twenties,” he continues, “I wanted to create a brand that would become famous. Our family business was in shipping, and because it was B2B[ Business to Business, Ed.], nobody knew what I was doing for a living. I had started my own shipping company when I was just 20, called Stelmar Tankers, but it was also a B2B business and so it didn’t become famous. So, I set out to create a world-famous brand. That’s what I wanted,” says the businessman. 

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It was during a trip to the United States that the young Stelios got the idea that would make his fortune. He studied the low-cost model and decided to tackle the quasi-monopoly of the major national airlines, which had an unshakeable grip on European skies. His mind was made up: to offer “flights within Britain for the same price as a pair of jeans.”

Stelios Haji-Ioannou created easyJet at the tender age of. 28. The concept? To halve the fares charged by traditional airlines by reducing operating costs by the same amount. The revolutionary idea didn’t quite ‘take off’ straight away.

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“It wasn’t always easy”, recalls the entrepreneur, “it was very stressful and risky, and I didn’t sleep much during that time. Thankfully, it worked out. But I still think you have to try and create publicity for a new business through PR. Starting up on your own is very expensive.”

Stelios brought his acute sense of marketing to bear to disrupt a market that was dominated at the time by international behemoths. The young boss even dared to show up, wearing an “easy orange” jumpsuit, on the inaugural flight of a rival airline… that he would eventually buy out.

“Giving back to society what it gave me”

Thirty years on, easyJet now carries more than 100 million passengers a year and has almost 350 aircraft serving some thirty countries. Now a billionaire, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou devotes a significant portion of his time, energy and wealth to philanthropy. “One of the most rewarding and satisfying things about my business model is that it provides me with a steady revenue stream, and I use that stream to give back to society what it gave me,” says the first Monegasque resident to have joined Bill Gates’ The Giving Pledge initiative, pledging in 2017 to donate most of his wealth to charitable initiatives. 

These initiatives are led by the hyperactive Sir Stelios through his Stelios Philanthropic Foundation. Based in Monaco, the Foundation supports, for example, a competition for young British entrepreneurs to the tune of 300,000 pounds sterling:“through this competition, we hope to find and support the next entrepreneurial success story”, as Sir Stelios, who has lost none of his entrepreneurial spirit would like to believe .

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With a conference hall available for non-profits and cultural events (such as the forthcoming screening of a film featuring Prince Albert II), the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is busy on all fronts: a  donation, with the Greek diaspora in Monaco, to help disadvantaged people in Greece ; a  competition for young Cypriot entrepreneurs ; awards for Cypriot/Greek bi-community businesses to encourage peace on the divided island ; a £200,000 prize for British entrepreneurs with disabilities ; raising, in the presence of Prince Albert II,  several hundred thousand euros to protect the environment in the Mediterranean, but also for the Prince Albert II Foundation and the WWF; the distribution of sleeping bags for the homeless in Monaco ; donations to the Air League association ; an initiative in favour of sport and peace; etc.

Prince Albert II and WWF International Director General Dr Kirsten Schuijt, with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou – © Stelios Philanthropic Foundation

Monaco at heart

Decorated in November 2023 with the Order of St. Charles by Prince Albert II himself – the highest rank in the Principality – Sir Stelios was knighted in the UK by Queen Elizabeth II.

Sir Stelios was made a Knight of the Order of Saint Charles by the Sovereign in 2023 – All rights reserved

But home is where the heart is, and that’s in Monaco; it was in Monaco in March that Athens-born Stelios joined the crowds cheering the Prince on his birthday; it was in Monaco that he joined the Monaco Economic Board; it is in Monaco that he invests in local culture or the employees at the Princess Grace Hospital; and it is in Monaco that Stelios runs his empire so that he can keep giving to the local communities and countries he has lived in. 

Monaco at heart, because  “some problems are too big and too far away (…). We prefer to support the four or five countries where I have spent part of my life,” he says, hoping” that if I can endow my foundation with enough funds, it can continue to do good in my name. That will be my legacy.