Entrepreneur John Ilhan, the founder of mobile phone dealership Crazy John’s, has died at just 42 years old. Ilhan, one of Australia’s most prominent entrepreneurs and worth $310 million, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack this morning while on his morning walk near his home in Brighton.

Ilhan started Crazy John’s with no stock, one shop and $1000. He was the first in the business to offer mobile phones for $1 each at a time when mobile phones were very expensive.

He used himself as a marketing tool and generated great loyalty with staff taking them to Queensland. He also held media stunts such as inviting customers to midnight barbeques.

Ilhan, whose fourth child was born this year, loved to keep fit.

But for several years has been in a fierce battle with Telstra, which cost his company $70 million. The battle had just ended after he terminated his reseller agreement with Telstra in July and jumped straight into bed with Vodaphone.

Ilhan recently sold 25% of Crazy Johns to investors including NAB, which took a 8.5% stake. The business is valued at $300 million. Other investors include the Smorgan family and Selpan group.

“This is a tragic day. John was an inspiration to everyone who ever knew or worked with him,’’ says Brendan Fleiter, Crazy John’s managing director. “He grew a business from nothing to become the biggest independent mobile phone retailer in Australia. John was always a big thinker, the difference was he always achieved what he said he would do.

“All the thoughts and prayers of the entire staff of Crazy John’s are with John’s wife Patricia and his four children. There was nothing that John loved more than to be with his family.

“John did something very special in his life. He followed his dream and created a business that employed hundreds of people and provided real competition in the mobile phone business for the first time,” Fleiter says. “He cared about looking after his customers and the people who worked with him.”

“John’s legacy will be felt forever in Australia because he offered something new to consumers through his business Crazy John’s, which will continue to grow and build upon John’s legacy.” Mr Fleiter says.

“The Crazy John’s business is strong and focused on its future as John would have wished. The key business objectives that John created such as customer service and offering the best deal will be something staff will be dedicated to do even more in his memory.”