New Cook UK chief a 'safe pair of hands'

New Cook UK chief a 'safe pair of hands'

New Thomas Cook UK chief executive Peter Fankhauser has been described as a safe pair of hands who will follow a “very conservative approach to tour operating”.

Industry insiders said Fankhauser came with a strong reputation in his native Germany, although agreed the appointment was overshadowed by Cook’s ongoing financial problems.

The fact he was tipped for the top Cook job before Harriet Green, former chief of electronics distributor Premier Farnell, was appointed in May indicates his high standing in the organisation.

The 51-year-old Fankhauser will take up his role as chief executive for the UK and Continental Europe on November 1. He was previously an executive board member of Kuoni and chief executive of Dusseldorf-based LTU Group.

Former MyTravel and Hoseasons boss Richard Carrick said: “This represents a very conservative approach to tour operating, putting the volume operation in safe and dependable hands.

“I am slightly surprised they couldn’t find anyone in the UK to do the job. That said, there’s nothing terribly radical in what’s been done and I don’t anticipate too many sparks.

“The company’s problems are bigger than these changes appear to address, so I think we can expect more and bigger changes sometime soon.”

Another source, who did not want to be named, said the decision to have Fankhauser dedicate only 80% of his time to the UK suggested the appointment was “window dressing”.

“The fact that Cook is not serious enough to give a full-time post for such an important job speaks volumes,” he said.

However, John McEwan, chief executive of Advantage, chairman of Abta and himself a former Thomas Cook managing director, said the move made sense as Cook seeks group synergies.

He said: “There are advantages in getting synergies in group functions like IT and finance as long as you do not lose the individual focus on key markets from the consumer and product perspective.

“The question now is how quickly he [Fankhauser] will get his feet under the table and what impact he will have in terms of the undoubted rationalisation that will take place.

“The next challenge is the turnaround, which is under way, although there is still a significant job to be done in terms of fixing the balance sheet.”

Cook confirmed current mainstream chief executive Ian Ailles and independent chief Phil Aird-Mash will report into Fankhauser.

The operator’s shares, which have been languishing at around 16p, jumped to almost 19p following the announcement, but fell back to below 18p on Tuesday.

Among other changes announced this week was an extension of group destination management chief executive Pete Constanti’s role.

Cook said Constanti, in a newly-created position of chief people officer, would “use his experience to lead our global people agenda”. The human resources and training activities in each of Cook’s regions will now report jointly into their local offices and Constanti.

Green said: “Our people are the driving force behind our future success and Pete’s appointment will ensure that we create a global focus on our people.”

Other Thomas Cook appointments announced this week included:

  • Michael Tenzer as managing director for Germany, to lead the German-speaking markets;
  • Reto Wilhelm as managing director, east and west, responsible for the Netherlands, Belgium and eastern Europe, including Russia;
  • Jenny Peters as group head of comm-unications, reporting to Green; and
  • James Sandford, currently integration director in the UK’s retail joint 
venture, becomes programme management director.


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