Not So Crazy

I was one of those people lucky enough to get to know John Ilhan – albeit briefly. I did a small project for his company and he was one of the retail leaders I interviewed with Gerard Manion for the book “Retail Is A University”.

John was the first person we interviewed and from the day he became involved in our small project to the day the book was printed his energy and enthusiasm for our quest never ceased to drive and influence us. My interactions with John were the best that you can have in business – where both people learn and stimulate one another.

At the core of a man who made a difference to a great many people’s lives were some pretty down to earth fundamentals. Firstly he believed in keeping things simple. John said, “Execution in retail is damned hard so you’ve got to keep it simple”. He believed that – when everything else was equal – it was service that made the difference. Service created and delivered by people for people.

He was big on values – traditional family values. The attributes of a person, which cannot be taught by an employer or shaped by corporate culture. Values to him were deep and conditioned by parents and family; peers; community; social context; education; life experience and more. He was very careful about who he chose to work with and to bring inside his “family” because he knew he could have limited impact on their underlying values.

But the most important thing that John reminded me of was a core philosophy that we should all live by.

More than any other person I have ever met in business John believed in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He believed that you treat people the way you would like to be treated. He talked about it, he lived it, he delivered it personally and he inspired it in his people.

While may people saw the brashness of the ambush marketing brilliance which gained the business a prominence way beyond their actual size in the early years, most people that worked in the business or were customers felt the impact of John’s “Do unto others” philosophy as it subtly wove through every aspect of recruitment, training, customer service and staff development.

John built a successful business that made a lot of people’s lives better simply by treating people the way John Ilhan himself wanted to be treated. With enthusiasm, care, respect, intelligence and integrity John proved that a small fish could take on the whales and win.

He may have called his business Crazy Johns, but John Ilhan was far from crazy.

He was one of the good guys. And while his magnetic presence will be sorely missed, the impact he had will live on for a long time in Australian retail.