Vodafone buys controlling stake in Crazy John’s from John Ilhan’s widow

John Ilhan’s widow Patricia has sold a 75% stake in Crazy John’s to Vodafone for about $150 million.

John Ilhan’s widow Patricia has sold a 75% stake in Crazy John’s to Vodafone for about $150 million.

Less than a year after the surprise death of founder John Ilhan, Vodafone has bought her 75% stake and also gobbled up NAB’s 8.35% interest. It is believed the Smorgan Group, which has 16.35%, might also sell soon to Vodafone.

SmartCompany estimates that Vodafone paid $166.7 million for 83.3% of the company, which had revenue of $180 million, 700 staff and $50 million of debt.

Chief executive Brendan Fleiter told SmartCompany this morning that the brand will continue to operate independently and he will remain as CEO along with his management team. “We started a relationship with them on July 1 last year, but there had been a lot of discussions in the last couple of years as we got to know not only the management in Australia pretty well but also the management in London.”

He says the company, Australia’s second largest independent mobile phone retailer, now has the backing of “the biggest mobile phone company on the planet”.

“It’s business as usual and we have great opportunities. We have got a fantastic technology platform and we have invested in the state-of-the-art billing and customer relationship management system,” Fleiter says.

“This gives us advantages over our competitors because our customers can access their accounts any time in real time and see their transactions on their phone or computer.”

He says they have implemented the best technology available globally. “We don’t suffer from legacies and migrating people over,” he says.

Fleiter says that Patricia took a little time after Ilhan’s death before she began to negotiate with Vodafone. The Turkish migrant was 42 when he had a heart attack while on a morning walk on October 23 last year.

“There was a settling period. But she had been left with a great spread of business interests, not just Crazy John’s. Her passion is her charitable work and she has four children under 10,” he says. “She was never involved on a day-to-day basis so being thrust into the seat with no notice was pretty difficult.”

Fleiter was close to Ilhan, so he had to deal with his own grief while leading the staff. “I had to deal with it because it was part of the job. But I had moments outside business hours,” he says.

He says the mutual inspiration of staff inspired him to keep on. “We closed ranks as a team and asked ‘what would John expect?’ We knew what he would expect; to get on with it. So that’s what we did. Just got on with it. And where others would see adversity, he would see opportunity. So this was also a time for guys in the business to step up.”

He says the company has been through a lot of change. “But we didn’t know John was going to die on October 23, but we did know this was on the cards for some time.”

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