The garish orange livery of Stelios Haji-Ioannou is spreading over Europe like a virus--and his competitors haven't found a cure. This natural-born salesman, a 34-year-old combination of the cerebral and the showman, of rich kid and hustler, has a knack for presenting the consumer with a cheap service that's free of the hassle and headache usually associated with discounts. He's applying the idea liberally across a growing number of businesses under the umbrella of easy--as in easyJet, easyRentacar and easyEverything.
Everyone calls him Stelios. It's part of a strategy inspired by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin. The idea is to become a populist icon behind a brand that is expandable to any number of consumer businesses. Populism is good for business, though a little odd for the billionaire son of a Greek Cypriot shipping magnate who spends his weekends in Monaco. Stelios started in his dad's business of oil tankers but became famous with easyJet, a no-frills airline modeled on U.S. carrier Southwest Airlines. EasyJet now flies to 18 cities in Europe; its planes are more than 80% full, compared with the European average load of 60%.
Then came a chain of Internet cafes called easyEverything, which pack 'em in by the hundreds for 24-hour cheap access to the Net ($.25 to $3 an hour). There are 20 in Europe. A new cafe in New York City's Times Square each week attracts more than 30,000 customers--students, people between jobs, travelers--with more U.S. outlets to come. The latest is his cheapo car-rental agency, easyCar, where prices start at $13 a day. "I like to invest in the brand," he says, which he jokes means "being up front about it, loud, and hope someone picks a fight with you."
--By J.F.O. McAllister