bmag Brisbane Person of the Year Candidate Stefan has a success story built on just 25 pounds, strong values and a work ethic.
Stefan is one of the rare mononymous people in Australia. Although he still uses his surname, it’s never said on introduction, for when it comes down to it, there is only one Stefan. At an age where most Australians are comfortable in retirement, Stefan owns 40 hair salons, a cosmetic range, a bustling inner city restaurant – Jo Jo’s, an envious property portfolio and he has recently launched his new passion, Stefan’s Boating World at Coomera. All this was birthed with just 25 pounds and a resolve to never compromise his values.
Over and above his business achievements, Stefan is a stellar storyteller. From tales of his childhood in Lebanon with his cherished grandfather, to travelling around Australia searching for start-up salons in his blue MGA in the 60s, to painting off-shore power boats bright pink and becoming not only the most recognised team on the circuit, but six time national champions, it’s easy to hang on his every word.
The best however is the tale of how it all began in the pub in Longreach, when in his twenties, he made the deal that launched his empire. After moving from Lebanon with his family when he was 15 years old and having worked for a few years as a hairdresser, he took the opportunity to see the world starting with his new backyard, Queensland. Not far from his starting point he stopped at the Longreach pub. With a sense of gratitude that can’t be faked he talks of the publican with whom he cut his first life changing deal.
“I stopped for a beer and he asked me what I did for a living, I said a hairdresser,” Stefan recalls enthusiastically “Straight away he said, Great, I have a shop across the road without a hairdresser, would you like to run it?” Stefan’s business acumen kicked in after barely taking a sip “How much will you pay me? I asked him and he offered me 12 pounds a week but I couldn’t live on 12 pounds a week. So I told him he would have to pay me 17 pounds to stay. He refused because the shop didn’t make any money.”
Not one to stop at a setback, Stefan pushed on, “I said, show me this shop. He took me to the shop and it was terrible, it had so much lacquer on the floor from the hairspray I knew I would have to get buckets of hot water to remove it, but it had everything in it I needed. So I said to him you can’t employ me for less than what it costs to live, so I will give you 25 pounds a week for the shop as long as I can keep the profit and use everything in it.”
Stefan’s shrewdness won out. “He handed me the key and said, “don’t leave town we really need a hairdresser!” And just like that a young Stefan cut his first entrepreneurial deal. As a young conscientious woman, Rose King came to work for Stefan in 1980. She credits his success to his empathy, “He is so caring and generous, and he brings out the best in people.
Nothing competes, nothing compares to Stefan,” she says with a smile, then goes on to explain why she has dedicated her career to his company. “I believe in the cultures and values he brings to young people. He allows young people to grow to a height they never imagined they were capable of reaching. Hairdressing was once just seen as a job, he has made hairdressing an exciting career path.” Fifty years since that first Longreach deal, Stefan now employs 600 staff and still the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive having just invested $20 million dollars in his boating business and an 800 apartment development in the planning in West End.
When I ask him if he feels he has had a lucky life he grabs the pen out of my hand turns to a new page on my note pad and he writes the word LUCK down the page. Next to each letter he writes – Labour Under Correct Knowledge. “That’s luck. Don’t think it’s a walk in the park, but I managed it. You can’t just open the door of a business and people flock in, you need respect and you have to earn it.”