KarstadtQuelle is a leading German retailer, owning a chain of department stores and mail order business.

It has been joint owner of Thomas Cook with airline Lufthansa since 2001. In December it announced a deal to take full ownership, buying out Lufthansa for €800 million.

A minority of shares in Karstadt (37%) are traded on the German stock market, with 58% owned by Madeleine Schickedanz, a descendent of the store group’s founder. The remaining 5% are in the hands of Karstadt directors.

Schickedanz has increased her shareholding from about 36% two years ago, prompting speculation in Germany that the company would be taken off the stock market.

It recorded heavy losses in 2004 following a decade of economic downturn in Germany. The company has been turned around thanks to the country’s improved fortunes and a series of business disposals. For a long time it was considered likely to sell its 50% share of Thomas Cook in a bid to revive its business.

Thomas Middelhoff, who will chair the new board, joined Karstadt in 2005 from German media giant Bertelsmann where he made his name as a deal-maker.