JOHN ILHAN was once the richest man in the country under 40. Little more than five years after his death, the mobile phone empire he built is gone, saddening his widow.
Patricia Ilhan, the wife of the late Melbourne entrepreneur, said she was ''very disappointed'' that Vodafone had decided to shut down the Crazy John's chain of mobile phone stores that he founded.
Patricia Ilhan, who sold her share of the Crazy John's brand to Vodafone for an estimated $150 million in 2008, said through a family spokesman that she was ''very disappointed with the decision but that it was a matter for Vodafone''.
Up to 300 jobs are reportedly at risk after Vodafone said it planned to close the Crazy John's chain on February 20. It is thought about 40 of the 60 stores could be closed. The remaining stores would be rebranded as Vodafone stores, the company said.
Mr Ilhan, the son of Turkish migrants, grew up in working-class Broadmeadows in Melbourne. He started his career as a salesman at Strathfield Car Radio before opening his first mobile phone store in Melbourne in 1991.
He made Crazy John's into one of Australia's largest independent phone retailers. Never shy of publicity, the businessman was a regular in the business pages and on lists of Australia's most wealthy people, and offered advice and insights for people hoping to emulate his success.
In October 2007, he collapsed while walking near his home in Brighton, Melbourne, and died.
Vodafone said the ''tough decisions'' were taken as part of a move to streamline its retail offering into one brand. Crazy John's customers would continue to be supported through Vodafone stores and its dealerships, the company said.
A telecoms analyst, Paul Budde, said all three providers in Australia - Telstra, Optus and Vodafone - had grappled with the cost of investing in 4G networks, market saturation in the mobile phone market, and stagnating revenue opportunities. ''You can't grow the market any further, so they've got the problem of increasing costs with the same sorts of revenue, so you have to start looking at where you can cut costs,'' he said.
with Mark Hawthorne