Ian Taylor assesses the impact of the travel giant’s outgoing chief executive
News that Tui chief executive Fritz Joussen will step down on September 30 came as a surprise last week, despite rumours he was considering leaving.
Joussen said the expiry of an exit clause in his contract at the end of this month triggered his decision. He insisted: “The decision was not easy. However, I’m convinced now is the right time.”
He joined Tui in 2013 from Vodafone Germany. At the time, there were two companies named Tui. Joussen led Tui AG in Germany, which owned hotels and cruise ships and held 55% of Tui Travel, listed in London and led by Peter Long.
Tui AG had been transformed from German heavy industry group Preussag into a travel company having acquired German travel firm Tui in 1999 and added Thomson in the UK in 2000.
Tui Travel had been set up following the UK merger of Thomson and First Choice in 2007, when it was separated from Tui AG. The two remained separate until late 2014 when Joussen led Tui AG in acquiring the whole of Tui Travel to establish Tui Group.
Initially joint chief executive with Long, Joussen took over in 2016 and led a transformation. In a letter to staff last week, Joussen wrote: “We transformed from a classic tour operator to an integrated global tourism group . . . unified our brands worldwide and focused the group on its core businesses. Non-core activities were sold to invest in hotel and cruise companies, as well as activities.
“In 2018, we launched the transformation into a digital platform company . . . to deliver our offerings to 21 million customers in real-time, individualised anywhere in the world.”
In March 2020, Joussen noted: “Tui’s survival was in doubt.” Now, he wrote: “We have successfully overcome the crisis. Our liquidity is high.
“We anticipate a strong summer with customer numbers almost on a par with 2019. We are starting a new chapter.”
He noted that when his option to resign was extended to June 2022 due to the pandemic, “the deadline seemed long to everyone, yet the time to decide has come”.
Tui supervisory board chairman Dieter Zetsche expressed regret at Joussen leaving, saying: “He took over a group threatened with being split up, successfully restructured it and gave Tui its current future-proof shape. This is very much his success story.”
Joussen was helped in this by the fragility of major competitors. The failures of Monarch in the UK and Air Berlin in Germany in 2017 removed competing leisure carriers. The collapse of Thomas Cook in 2019 took out Tui’s biggest rival across Europe. But he ensured Tui stayed ahead of rivals.
He will be replaced from October by Tui chief financial officer (CFO) Sebastian Ebel, whose appointment Joussen said “stands for reliability and continuity”. Group director for corporate finance and investor relations Mathias Kiep will become CFO.