Big Interview: Browne insists Tui merger 'no factor' in her departure

Big Interview: Browne insists Tui merger 'no factor' in her departure

Tui announced the unexpected departure of airline chief Chris Browne last week. Ian Taylor asked Browne why she decided to go

Chris Browne has run the airlines of Tui, Thomson or First Choice for the past 16 years, so the announcement that she would depart on September 30 was a surprise.

However, Browne said: “I’ve been thinking about it for some time. It has been a difficult decision, but I’m a firm believer in knowing when to move on. I fancied trying something new and it’s now or never.”

She dismissed the suggestion that changes at Tui Group since Tui Travel and German-based Tui AG merged last December were a factor, although she is not the first senior figure to depart – deputy chief executive Johan Lundgren left in May and chief executive Peter Long will relinquish day-to-day control and become group chairman early next year.

But Browne insisted: “The merger had no impact whatever on me. I came to the decision independently of knowing what Peter or Johan were doing.”

Browne took over running First Choice carrier Air 2000 just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and reshaped and rebranded it as First Choice Airways. Later, she oversaw the airline’s merger with Thomson in 2007-08 to form Thomson Airways.

Following the Tui Group’s formation she switched from heading Thomson Airways to become chief operating officer for aviation, charged with integrating the group’s five airlines across Europe under the One Aviation programme. Asked how this was proceeding, Browne said: “There is a limit to what I can say, but I’ve set the direction and made my recommendations.”

She said: “It has been a real honour to work for the group. The business is in great shape. I’ve many great memories. Introducing the Dreamliner [in 2013] was a highlight – I was never going to leave until I’d delivered the Dreamliner.

“The merger between First Choice and Thomson was really tough, but had we not done it the business would not be in the shape it is.”

Asked what she will do next, Browne said: “Aviation gets into your blood, but I’m going to rule nothing out. There is no pressure for me to do something by a certain time. What’s important to me is to work with great people and to make a difference. I like getting on and doing a job.”

First, she is going to have a holiday – in fact, several.

“I’ve been given gardening leave and I’m giving myself permission to have some time off,” said Browne. “I’m going to have some cracking holidays. My husband loves sailing, so we’ll be sailing off the coast of Scotland. I’ve booked a Thomson holiday in Rhodes for two weeks. And I have friends in Los Angeles who have lived there seven years and I’ve only ever seen them overnight on the way to Seattle, so I’ll spend two weeks with them. I’ve had a maximum two weeks’ holiday a year for the last 16 years.”

What will she miss? “I’ll miss the people most, then the buzz and adrenaline, the fact that something is always happening.

“But I won’t miss having the phone on 24/7.”

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