Written by: Keith Tully
Reviewed: Wednesday 16th October, 2019
The former chief executive of Thomas Cook has expressed his regret at leading the company as it headed into compulsory liquidation last month.
Speaking to MPs during a parliamentary committee, Peter Fankhauser said he is “deeply sorry” about the travel firm’s collapse but insisted that he worked “extremely hard” to try and save it.
“I am deeply sorry about this failure, and I am deeply sorry for the distress we caused to millions of customers who booked holidays with us and who were on holidays with us,” he said.
Mr Fankhauser also said he is sorry to the company’s suppliers and partners who lost out as a result of Thomas Cook’s collapse but he insisted he feels especially sorry for his former colleagues, many of whom lost their jobs as a result of the company’s failure.
Regarding the specific financial challenges that Thomas Cook faced under his leadership, the former CEO referred repeatedly to a “huge debt pile” that he says effectively “constrained” him and his leadership team as they tried to modernise the business.
“When I started as CEO in 2014, I was fully aware of the challenge, and I tried to tackle this challenge by really transforming the business from an old-fashioned tour operator into a modern tour operator by differentiating our offering and our services,” Mr Fankhauser told MPs.
“Obviously the pace which we could do that was not fast enough. It was constrained by this huge debt pile. Since 2012, we paid £1.2 billion of interest costs and refinancing costs,” he explained.
Mr Fankhauser was asked by MPs about the payments he received as a salary and as bonuses in the years leading up to Thomas Cook’s collapse into liquidation and whether any of that money might be clawed back to pay creditors.
He said he wasn’t sure but noted that he wasn’t paid any bonuses in 2018 or 2019, while conceding that his salary payments were hard to defend given that “in relation to a normal worker’s base salary, it is an enormous amount”.
Hundreds of former Thomas Cook travel agency stores across the UK were acquired in recent days by Hays Travel.
Mr Fankhauser said he hoped that the family-run firm would make a success of their newly-purchased high street operations.