Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser has described himself as “devastated” by the travel giant’s collapse but insists he would have done nothing differently.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday the 58-year-old said he had tried his “absolute best” to save the company and that he was “deeply sorry” for the 21,000 jobs lost worldwide, including more than 1,000 in Peterborough where the firm had its head office.
Mr Fankhauser said he understood the anger at the collapse of the 178-year-old travel operator, admitting he felt “desperate” by the situation, and he revealed he was probed by staff continuing to work at the firm’s Lynch Wood offices who are being kept on by the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out the biggest repatriation of Brits abroad since the Second World War.
“It would not have been right not to go there,” he said. “But it was tough. I talked to colleagues in small groups. They were crying, they were asking very, very difficult questions, ‘how did it come to that? Couldn’t you have made all the decisions better?’ All the questions I ask myself as well, of course.”
However, the dad of three insisted a government bailout of £200 million to satisfy the banks would have put the company on the road to recovery, although he did not blame ministers for not wanting to set a precedence.
Instead, he blamed the large debt racked up before his time as chief executive, while also criticising the time taken to alter the company’s operating model by reducing the number of outlets - largely due to strict lease contracts.
“Where did it go wrong? We didn’t change fast enough. That’s definitely the point,” he said.
On top of insisting he would have done “nothing” differently, he revealed he had not been paid to work this month and hit out at suggestions he is a “fat cat” by saying that around half of the £8,3 million he received between 2014 and 2018 was in shares which are now worthless due to Thomas Cook going into liquidation.
Mr Fankhauser is set to be grilled by Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee which has launched an inquiry into the travel giant’s collapse, while it was reported over the weekend that the Government is “determined” to do all it can to claw back millions of pounds in pay and bonuses from Thomas Cook directors to help to fund the £520 million cost of repatriating and compensating customers.
Thomas Cook collapsed in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving 150,000 of its UK customers stranded abroad and 9,000 staff in the country without jobs.