The overhaul at Thomas Cook is around half completed with more work to be done in the UK, according to chairman Frank Meysman.
Profiled in today’s Daily Telegraph ahead of interim results on Thursday, he says “I don’t feel beleaguered anymore. You have to remember this company has some great elements in it too – Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium.
“Yes there is weed in the front yard, but people sometimes forget there is a beautiful green pasture across the channel.
“But OK, we need to make sure we eliminate the weed and have nice Wimbledon-like grass in the UK as well.”
Reports have suggested further UK shops could be closed and the businesses in France and Canada sold off.
“A business should perform,” Meysman says. “The UK is definitely seeing a turnaround but in that turnaround there are elements of shop closures, of how we look at cost and service.
“You’re going to see a continual restructuring in the UK to put more focus on the customer and products.
“We know that countries like Canada and France are underperforming and there the message is clear – sell it or fix it, and it’s not fix it or sell it, it’s sell it or fix it. But I’ve also made it clear that we’re not going to do fire sales.”
A greater online focus will continue, though Meysman is adamant the group will maintain a high street presence.
“In Scandinavia 75% of business is online. The UK is going to go the same way, but the speed is not known,” he says. “That said, the stores will always have reason for being. The number will change, maybe the function, but there will always be room for both.”
Turning to new chief executive Harriet Green, Meysman says: “In the same way I’m not about to allow a fire sale of assets, I was adamant that the chief executive who came in was going to be the best there is.
“That means you have to have your banking arrangements in place because anybody would be foolish – that might be an exaggeration but not much of one – to come in if the company was in a difficult situation.”
Green has spent her career in electrical components, provoking some concern among analysts about her lack of travel experience. Meysman suggests such concerns are overdone.
“She’s the right person and it’s the right combination with people who know everything about travel,” he says. “She’s at the leading edge of technological evolution, she can take a helicopter-like strategic view on things and is happy to get her hands dirty. That’s perfect for Thomas Cook.”
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