May 3rd, 2010 by Rachel Krider

Do You Have To Be Crazy To Achieve Success?

Success is a Choice

Success is a Choice

John Ilhan founded a company called Crazy John’s, one of the largest privately held mobile phone companies in Australia. The Turkish-Australian entrepreneur grew up in the working class suburb of Broadmeadows in northern Melbourne. His parents migrated to Australia when he was just five years old. Before turning 40, he was one of the few entrepreneurs to achieve success, ranked the richest young person in Australia by the BRW magazine. Tragically, in 2007, Ilhan was walking not far from his home in Brighton, Victoria when he collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack. The very same year, BRW magazine ranked Ilhan as the 126th richest man in Australia, with a net worth of $310 million.

John Ilhan had succeeded in a competitive industry and overcome the challenges of growing up in a poor migrant family to become a wealthy businessman and respected leader in his community and across Australia. Ilhan got his start in 1991 when he opened his first mobile phone store called “Mobileworld” in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, offering crazy deals like $1 phones while his competitors were selling the same products for $200. His unusual marketing methods influenced the name change from “Mobileworld” to “Crazy John’s.”

The young entrepreneur worked long hours and overcame numerous challenges to achieve success and become a phone retailer with more than 120 stores and 600 employees in Australia.

Although John Ilhan may have given off the aura of a happy-go-lucky businessman, behind his achievements in building up the Crazy John’s empire was a person who always knew how to close a deal. He was street smart and hungry, and had honed his talent selling cars at Ford Credit, becoming Strathfield’s top mobile phone salesman in his early 20s. All at a time when mobiles were as big as heavy bricks and cost more than $5000 – hardly today’s easily affordable fashion accessory.

A remarkable entrepreneur success story, John began Crazy John’s in the depths of the 1991 recession, when he leased a small shop in Melbourne’s cosmopolitan suburb of Brunswick. All he could afford were a few trestle tables and a stack of brochures to try and sell phones. He had to borrow money from his father just to afford the lease so to stock his store he would buy second-hand phones and pagers from ads in the Trading Post – and re-sell them well below the prices offered by competitors selling new phones. The key was to slash margins and work towards sales volume.

John was the first in Australia to introduce the $1 phone and the first to bundle accessories with a phone. He broke the rules to create a brand that was fun and irreverent – and completely revolutionised the Australian mobile telecommunications model.

Another coup was recognising Australians love for sport – a passion he happened to share– so he aligned the brand with AFL and rugby league. Starting with so little focused his mind in what the customer really wanted.
Better deals. He knew store location was everything and so was a headline grabbing deal that captured the imagination of the customer.

When he began expanding in Sydney he found a site that was a hairdressing salon, so John and his close friend Brendan Fleiter simply arranged to fly to Sydney to meet the owner, did the deal on taking over the lease on the spot and left a deposit on the owner’s EFTPOS machine as an act of good faith. Apparently, the hairdresser’s bank later contacted the owner querying who paid for a $5000 haircut!

John Ilhan was also a generous philanthropist and regularly gave to various charities. He started the “Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation” with a starting $1 million dollar donation after learning that his daughter Jaida had a severe allergy to peanuts.

That’s why Crazy John’s became Australia’s biggest independent mobile phone sellers and how John became one of the pioneers in developing Australia’s mobile phone industry. A man who arrived as a child from Turkey and was able to achieve success as an entrepreneur by building an empire, based on “being Crazy.”

13 Responses to “Do You Have To Be Crazy To Achieve Success?”

  1. Pauline O'Halloran says:

    Is it crazy to be totally absorbed and focused on achieving a goal? Is it crazy to push yourself above and beyond the normal expectation? Is it crazy to try something that no-one has ever tried before or that the majority would simply never consider doing? If so, then I salute the “crazy ones” (myself included) and I’m grateful to belong to a community of like minded entrepreneurs who continually support and encourage each other in our individual and collective pursuits to be not only successful but to be EXTRAORDINARY!

    Anyone with the courage to step away from the herd, take a giant leap out of their comfort zone and follow their vision and passion is almost always considered “crazy”! But without the “Crazy John’s” of the world we would still be existing in the Stone Age!

  2. Judee Pouncey says:

    When I quit a full-time job seven years short of full-retirement, a lot of people thought I was “crazy” and told me so.

    I looked up “crazy” in the dictionary and in the thesaurus and came up with my two favorite definitions: “unbound” and “extraordinary”, qualities that are valuable for an entrepreneur to have.

    So, yes, I am crazy! And I love being an entrepreneur!

  3. Bettina Evert says:

    When I quit my partnership so that I could spend more time to build an online business people said I was crazy. I am so grateful for being crazy. So what does it mean to be crazy ? to think outside the square ; to believe in your self; to take the path less travelled. All of these things; It means not being in the herd and walking away from societal ‘norms’: security and boredom!! So that you can find your own way!! Thanks Rachel for reminding me about a terrific bloke and how we can all learn from being ‘crazy’.

  4. Emma Lewin says:

    People who say that the things we do (or want to do!) are “crazy” often seem to be the ones who wouldn’t dream of moving away from the herd and creating a life that makes them happy and fulfilled. If wanting and creating a life on MY terms is considered crazy by others – well I’m happy to be called Crazy – it will sure beat following the herd!

  5. Marie Vassallo says:

    I love this topic of being crazy because it is something that has cropped up a bit lately in conversations with friends. I have on more than one occassion been told that I must be crazy because I smile all the time and the comments have been along the lines that a ‘normal’ person can’t be THAT happy, well if that’s the case, Thank God I’m not normal.
    The topic came up again this week when I resigned from my very well paying government job. I have been on maternity leave since the birth of my children and had the advantage of still having another 3 years of unpaid maternity leave to go before I would need to go back to work but I decided to resign even though I am still accruing holiday pay and other benefits and most of those around me think that I am completely crazy for doing this but again, so glad to not be normal because I feel wonderful knowing that i will never have to go back to a job where I was unhappy, stressed and unappreciated so why be tied to it for the next 3 years and all the negative energy associated with that.
    I have always had great admirations for John Ilhan, particularly as the child of immigrants myself, I was so sad to hear of his death which acted as a reminder to me to go get what I want out of life today because who knows how many tomorrows we have and to enjoy every minute NOW not when we reach our goal. What have you done that has made others think you’re crazy?

  6. chrissy greig says:

    It was great to read the story behind “Crazy Johns” .We have been told by family and friends that we are crazy and should just get a JOB like normal people..Our answer is NO Thank YOU!!!!!!!…We love that we think out of the box and we have been able to help so many other people learn how to achieve their goals and live the life of their dreams…If that is CRAZY …well…LETS GET MORE PEOPLE CRAZY….

    “If nobody is laughing at you or calling you crazy… You’re just not thinking BIG enough!”

  7. Fiona corsar says:

    I remember reading about Crazy John a few years ago and thinking what a determent & dedicated man
    That’s what l call being on purpose focusing on your dream and following through! He said when he rented his first shop he had no money for rent! so he had to sleep on the floor of the shop at night, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.
    When you Love what you do, you will succeed! I Love Polaris Global…..

  8. Belinda Byfield says:

    The story of John Ilhan reminds me of one of the many breakthroughs I have had with Beyond Freedom Evolution.
    Don’t let your past predict your future. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you grew up in a wealthy family or a poor family. Each one of us has the ability to create our own future. John Ilhan is a true testiment to this.
    And Marie in the past I had never done anything crazy, I was a stay at home mum, Iooked after my kids, my husband and our home. So when I joined Polaris Global and started telling my family and friends that I was starting my own business I pretty much got laughed at was told I was crazy. Now after having success here, being able to take my family on holidays all over the world and having a whole bunch of fun, I now think that they are the ones that are crazy for not seeing an opportunity that is right in front of them.

  9. Katrina Murray says:

    I think being thought of as crazy is a HUGE advantage!!! It’s been going on for so long that people now EXPECT crazy stuff from me and I think I get away with more because of it!! If I say I’m going sky-diving people say ‘well you are crazy!’ or if I say I’m going to bungy-jump and then do, people now say ‘Of course, we’d expect you to do something crazy like that!’ It’s given me freedom in the sense that I now accept that I’m not like everyone else, I want to steer my own course in life and will try things outside the norm. The interesting thing is that because people now expect it from me, they often get as interested and excited about my next exploit as I do and actually encourage me, ‘what crazy thing are you up to next?’!! Now if ONLY they’d get off the side-lines and start doing some crazy stuff too they could really start to LIVE their lives with excitement and passion!

  10. marketiva says:

    cool,One again, your articles is very good.thank you!very much.

  11. Nora EL'sheikh says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Crazy John (John Ilhan) in the corporate sports industry. He was a client of mine and a major sponsor to the South Dragons basket ball team i managed. Sadly when he suddenly passed away it affected us all including his favourite basket ball team. What i would like to share is that Crazy John had great leadership skills and left behind a simple system that all his staff still follow today. John was an inspiration to me as a personal colleague of mine as well as a successful entrepreneur. Crazy John, we miss you and thanks for teaching us crazy is fun and ok!

  12. Elizabeth Roughan says:

    Crazy to do what he did?

    Crazy to be an entrepreneur?

    Crazy NOT to!

  13. You Have a lot of interesting ideas! Maybe I ought to consider trying this by my self. Cheers

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