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Editor’s Letter: Thomas Cook set to gamble on a travel outsider

TWgroup editor Lucy HuxleyWhen Manny Fontenla-Novoa stepped down at Thomas Cook, well-known travel names such as Kuoni’s Peter Rothwell and Tui’s Dermot Blastland were immediately touted as possible successors.

But, it seems, Thomas Cook is casting its net wider. The bosses of WH Smith and boutique hotel chain Malmaison are both being tipped as targets for the job.

Stockbroker Charles Stanley claimed last week an appointment was imminent and that it should be a ‘real catalyst for recovery’. No pressure, then.

Turning around Thomas Cook, whose share price slipped back below 50p this week, is a massive challenge.

So would appointing a chief executive from outside the mainstream travel sector be a shrewd move?

Maybe. However, examples of senior execs joining travel from other sectors and succeeding are few and far between.

Indeed, Cook itself appointed a sales director from Asda a few years ago, only for him to last just eight months.

Recruitment experts tell me one of the things outsiders struggle with is the sheer pace at which travel operates.

They have endless examples of firms that initially sought senior executives from outside the industry but ultimately appointed candidates with a proven track record in travel.

Given that Cook has already plumped for the boss of Sara Lee frozen foods over ex-Hilton and easyJet boss David Michels as chairman, a seasoned travel pro might offer better balance. On the other hand, someone exceptional who starts with a clean slate might be just what Cook needs.

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