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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
Stelios bails out EasyEverything
EasyEverything internet cafe
'Somebody has got to put more money in'
by BBC News Online's Mary Hennock

The EasyEverything internet cafe chain has run out of money and is to get a 15m funding injection from its founder, budget airline entrepreneur Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

But Mr Haji-Ioannou confirmed he is cutting the value of shares held by staff from one pound to one penny as part of the refinancing.

"I think it's a fair package," Mr Haji-Ioannou told BBC News Online.

"The company has run out of money and somebody has to put more money in," said Mr Haji-Ioannou, who acknowledges that he has been unable to attract any other fresh investors.

Possible job lossses

"We tried to raise money from the market... to put it bluntly we failed," he told BBC News Online.

Two of the chain's 22 cafes - in Antwerp and Rotterdam - will close as part of the rescue plan.

The remainder of the business will rebranded easyInternetCafe.

Future expansion at the chain, which charges customers an average of 1 a hour for internet access, will be based around its London, New York and Paris stores.

There are no plans to close the stores in Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh, but there could be job losses among the company's 400 staff.

No takers

When EasyEverything was founded in 1999, staff were offered two 1 shares for every pound they invested in the company, which was being lined up for a London Stock Exchange flotation.

The company also offered a loyalty bonus equal to one year's salary in shares for those who stayed for 12 months.

Press reports that the bonus was a top-up for salaries below market rates are "rubbish", according to Mr Haji-Ioannou, the firm's chairman.

Fair pay

The scheme was limited to 15 senior staff, founder members of the company who invested at the outset, he said.

Staff at this level got salaries of between 80,000 and 165,000, according to Mr Haji-Ioannou.

Asked about reports of anger among staff, he said: "In those days that was a dot.com frenzy and they thought they were going to get rich quick".

He would not comment on the reasons behind the departure of EasyEverything chief executive Maurice Kelly on Tuesday.

Under the refinancing, Mr Haji-Ioannou will increase his holding in the company from 75% to 95% through the issue of 1.5bn new shares to himself priced at one penny each.

Big falls on paper

Staff hold about 5% of the shares. Their investments were "on average 5,000 times 15 people," he said.

After the refinancing, the value of a 5,000 shareholding will fall to 50. And the value of an 80,000 bonus, for example, would be just 800.

Last year, Mr Haji-Ioannou raised cash from venture capital firm Apax Partners and Hewlett Packard (HP) through convertible bonds, but neither investor has proved willing to turn the bonds into shares, preferring to take cash.

This triggered the decision to restructure the shareholdings in the loss-making internet cafe chain.

Profitable next year?

The chairman will now add the 10% shareholdings that would have been available to Apax and HP to his own holdings.

Staff will not lose out and those who stay with the firm for the next three years will get the same bonus deal as before, he says.

"Unfortunately their shares are not worth as much, but I'm not depriving them of anything".

"For those willing to stay with me for three years, I'm willing to reinstate them for three years in exactly the same position".

Be patient

Staff who leave, will not receive any bonus share options but will be able to keep their existing shares.

Mr Haji-Ioannou insists the changes are the result of investors' gloomier view of dot.com companies and urges his staff to be stoical: "Even Bill Gates has seen his paper net worth come down in the last few weeks".

His personal fortune has been estimated at 800m from a clutch of companies, including budget airline Easyjet, which was successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange, and EasyRentacar and EasyMoney, an internet bank.

See also:

21 Aug 01 | Business
Easyjet founder enters banking
15 Nov 00 | Business
Easy approach to a jetset day
15 Nov 00 | Business
Easyjet sets flotation price
31 Oct 00 | Business
Easyjet valued at 564m
15 Nov 00 | Business
Low-cost airlines reach new heights
17 Aug 00 | Business
Listing for cyber cafe chain
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