The future of Crazy John’s lies under a cloud after the sudden death of founder and entrepreneur John Ilhan, founder of Crazy Johns. Ilhan, 42, died suddenly yesterday morning when walking in a Melbourne park.
Ilhan had just in the last few months taken the company that he founded in 1991 in a completely new direction. He had taken in new equity partners, formed a new reselling partnership and planned to bring new innovations in mobile technology to Australia. These were not the actions of a man who was slowing down, as some reports suggest. And it raises the question of what’s next for Crazy John’s and its 700 employees.
Business sources described John Ilhan as the visionary behind the business, who not only drove the strategy but was brilliant at following through in execution.
Although he has built a good management team, including chairman Barry Hamilton and managing director Brendan Fleiter, the sudden absence of Ilhan as the driving force will inevitably affect the business.
His death, while tragic, will also be of concern to new business partners. He had recently sold a 25% stake in his company to powerful players including the Smorgon family, NAB’s private equity arm and the Selpam Group.
NAB’s chief executive Ahmed Fahour was a long-term friend of Ilhan and has publicly expressed his sadness at Ilhan’s death.
Although Ilhan and NAB had not revealed future plans, Ilhan told SmartCompany a few months ago that he envisaged the mobile phone taking over from credit cards in about five years. “Mobile phones will be another very important channel to deliver financial services to customers and the financial community will embrace that,” he said.
He believed banks would relish the opportunity to enhance their connection with customers and he was obviously planning to ensure that the telecommunication products he sold were going to deliver financial products to customers. One would assume that Ilhan was envisaging that the NAB investment would be more than a straight private equity deal.
NAB would not comment on the future of the deal, but it is believed that the bank has standard review processes that will look at the NAB’s investment in the next few weeks.
Vodafone executives will also be concerned. Ilhan had just extracted his company from a damaging battle with Telstra and joined forced with Vodafone in order to start selling Vodafone mobile services through its retail store network.
Vodafone, which has about 200 branded retail outlets, planned to add 120 Crazy John’s outlets and is gearing up for a serious assault on the big telecommunications companies.
Meanwhile Telstra turned around and signed a distribution deal with JB Hi-Fi and other retailers.
Vodafone would not comment today, but pundits say one likely outcome is that Vodafone or another player will buy Crazy John’s and it will remain as a brand in the stable.
Meanwhile it is not just a sad and confusing time for Ilhan’s staff, suppliers and business partners. Ultimately it is a blow for consumers. Ilhan was excited by innovation and planned to be at the forefront of new innovations in mobile technology. He talked of innovating in several ways, offering customers mobiles with more functionality and being at the forefront of mobile technology that will do everything a PC or TV could do.
One of the last things he told SmartCompany was: “Crazy John’s will be bringing to Australia new innovations in mobile technology in the very near future never before seen in this country. So watch this space.”