Sure, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and his family are on track to make £70 million from their 38% stake in easyJet this year. And, yes, Haji-Ioannou was knighted for his “entrepreneurship” in founding the discount airline in 1995. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped the Greek-Cypriot billionaire from launching a rival airline.
According to a terse release on easyJet’s website, Haji-Ioannou informed them of his intentions to set up FastJet airlines. The FastJet.com website has already been set up and simply reads “By Stelios. Coming soon!” From easyJet’s release:
easyJet has a number of rights under its agreements with Sir Stelios and easyGroup IP Licensing Ltd (a subsidiary of easyGroup Holdings Limited) as described in the Circular to shareholders dated 16th November 2010.
To the extent that any activity of Fastjet, Sir Stelios or any company controlled by him infringes or would infringe those rights, easyJet will take necessary action to protect the rights of easyJet and the interests of its shareholders.
Sir Stelios also alleges that easyJet has breached the terms of the binding comfort letter between him and easyJet of 10 October 2010 and that that letter is no longer in force, claims which easyJet emphatically rejects.
easyJet continues to seek constructive dialogue with easyGroup and Sir Stelios.
This isn’t the first time Haji-Ioannou and the airline have clashed. As mentioned in the release, the two sides ended a two-year branding dispute in October 2010 over the airline’s right to use the name easyJet and expand partnership activities on their own. Stelios also owns easyGroup, which runs easyCar, easyCruise, easyBus, easyHotel, easyInternetcafe, easyMoney, easyCinema, easyCinemada DVD rental, easy4Men, easyMusic, easyMobile, easyGym, amongst other businesses.
That dispute was resolved after Haji-Ioannou renounced any claim to easyJet’s chairmanship in exchange for 0.25% of easyJet’s annual revenue for the use of the easy brand. Still, a few months later Haji-Ioannou was back in headlines protesting over a £2.5 million bonus package easyJet paid to its former chairman in February 2011.
But by letter of the Oct. 10 agreement, Haji-Ioannou could have simply waited another month and launched an “easy” branded competitor such as easyFlight or easyHolidays. The fact that he’s launching FastJet is actually kind of a break for easyJet and the market reacted to the news with a yawn: easyJet’s stock remained pretty much unchanged. Easy come, easy go.