The easyJet founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has promised to give more than half of his £2bn fortune to charity after he was “inspired” by the world’s richest man, Microsoft billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates.
Haji-Ioannou said he had signed up to the Giving Pledge, an organisation founded by Gates and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, that asks the world’s wealthiest people to give away the majority of their money.
The Cypriot-born magnate, who has stamped his orange-hued “easy” brand on everything from aeroplanes to cut-price convenience stores, was estimated to be worth £1.95bn in the latest Sunday Times rich list.
He is expected to give away about £1bn of that, some of it in cash during his lifetime and the remainder by selling assets through the terms of his will.
Haji-Ioannou joins a host of billionaires to make the pledge, whose British contingent includes the Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson, Ann Gloag, the transport group Stagecoach’s co-founder, and Lord Sainsbury, whose family started the supermarket chain of the same name.
In a letter accompanying his pledge, Haji-Ioannou said: “Allow me to start by saying that I am not sure I am a worthy member of this group of extraordinary individuals.
“I consider that I have been lucky in life at least twice,” he said.
“I inherited some wealth from my father, a self-made Greek-Cypriot shipping magnate, and then I was lucky enough to have been at the right place at the right time to start a business [easyJet] that did much better than I ever could have hoped.”
Haji-Ioannou was 28 years old when he founded easyJet in 1995, leasing two Boeing 737-200 aircraft in a bid to create a low-cost rival to traditional “flag-carrier” airlines such as British Airways.
The business has since grown to become the second-largest carrier in Europe behind Ryanair in passenger numbers. Stelios is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the business, but a large portion of his wealth is made up of a 34% stake in easyJet that he shares with family members and is worth about £1.9bn.
Haji-Ioannou said the no-frills airline was “nothing special” in comparison with the business empires of some of the Giving Pledge’s other members, who also include the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, the futurist and chief executive of the electric cars firm Tesla.
Haji-Ioannou, who turned 50 earlier this year, said he would channel his wealth through his philanthropic foundation, which funds projects in places where he has lived and worked.
These include scholarships to London School of Economics and City University and annual donations to the Red Cross and World Wildlife Fund.
Other charitable projects include food donations in Greece and projects to reconcile differences between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots in the country of his birth.
He also funds unspecified projects in the tax haven of Monaco, where he now lives.
“I guess my belief is that nobody has a monopoly on good charitable ideas and the problems in our world will never all go away,” he said. “So we have to keep helping, within our means, forever.”
He added that he had been “inspired” by a phone call from Gates, the world’s richest man with an estimated fortune of $88.5bn (£69bn).
While Haji-Ioannou became one of Britain’s wealthiest people thanks to easyJet, some of his other “easy” ventures have proved more difficult.
While easyCar and easyHotel are still going, he enjoyed less success applying the brand to other ventures such as easyCinema, easy4Men, easyMoney, easyInternetCafe, easyMusic, easyPizza and easyCruise.
Last year, he applied the name to easyFoodstore, a budget convenience store on London’s busy North Circular road, where everything was initially priced at 25p.