Opinion: Cook’s CEO shortlist should reassure the City

Richard Carrick A few weeks ago, I speculated that Manny’s successor at Thomas Cook would almost certainly be an outsider to the industry. Debate was rife at the Abta Travel Convention and also at the Travolution Summit, and now we hear an appointment is imminent.

Some say the job needs an experienced tour operator, and few come more experienced than Peter Rothwell, currently head of Kuoni. Peter doesn’t need the job, the money, or the hassle especially with the ski season looming and when a Swiss base has a magnetic lure.

Moreover, Thomas Cook has enough tour operating experts to keep the whole industry supplied –  they just need stronger leadership.

Some say what’s needed is someone with a strong head for numbers, good banking relationships , a track record of debt reduction and corporate restructuring, but frankly such people rarely come with the flair a brand like Thomas Cook warrants.

This isn’t to in any way deny the financial challenges of the business, but there are plenty of expensive experts and specialists queuing up to assist any new leader, without that person having to be blessed with such skills themselves.

For me, it looks like a job for an experienced CEO with strong commercial acumen and an eye for the brand opportunity. Kate Swann from W H Smith has done a remarkable job and is well respected in City circles, but possibly due for a change.

Robert Cook left MWB unexpectedly last week where he has successfully developed two of the UK’s most differentiated of hotel brands – Malmaison and Hotel du Vin and has yet to announce his destination.

Both have run companies that are fundamentally people businesses, and let’s not forget that staff motivation was one of Manny’s biggest assets.    

There is no doubt that the company has to make an appointment that gets shareholders back on board and an industry ‘outsider’ of this ilk would do exactly that. Get it wrong and Thomas Cook may not stay independent for very long.     

Richard Carrick is currently Chairman of PrivateFly, a non-executive director of Blue Chip Holidays and consultant to several travel companies. He is also a Board Trustee of People 1st and President of CIMTIG

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