© GettyThomas Cook Boeing 757 parked at Las Palmas Airport, Spain. Thomas Cook travel group collapsed in September 2019.
Thomas Cook did not need to fail and was turned into a 'zombie' firm by former bosses who overloaded it with debt, two influential travel executives have claimed. The boss of the company that has bought Thomas Cook's high street stores and a travel executive who tried to acquire the ailing tour operator in 2012 have hit out at its former management and board ahead of a parliamentary inquiry this week.
MPs on the Business Select Committee will grill Peter Fankhauser and Frank Meysman - the last chief executive and chairman of Thomas Cook - on Tuesday morning as part of a probe into why the firm collapsed and who was responsible.
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Heaping pressure on them and their predecessors, the chief executive of Hays Travel - the company which bought the collapsed firm's 555 stores last week - said his new business would prosper where Thomas Cook failed because it was without debt. Before going into liquidation last month, Thomas Cook was saddled with a staggering £1.7billion of debts.
Last night, a travel executive who tried to buy Thomas Cook seven years ago for £400million with backing from high-profile fund manager Neil Woodford, hit out at Meysman's chairmanship of the group. Clive Jacobs, a founder of leisure car hire business Holiday Autos and the chairman of Tully Luxury Travel, told The Mail on Sunday: 'It is a travesty. This is a business that did not need to fail.'
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Jacobs, who also runs magazine business Jacobs Media Group, said Meysman - as well as former chief executives Fankhauser, Harriet Green and Manny Fontenla-Novoa - must take much of the blame for Thomas Cook's demise. He added: 'My main thought is that in public companies you have a board [whose] role is to safeguard shareholders' interests and police the business. I believe that that has not happened.
'The chairman and the non-execs need to be held accountable. They're the ones people scrutinise to find out how on earth this could happen.' Jacobs said he tried to buy Thomas Cook in 2012 with backing from Woodford and his then-investment firm Invesco. But he said the deal was scuppered by Meysman.
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Hays Travel, run by husband and wife team John and Irene, last week shocked the travel industry by agreeing to buy Thomas Cook's entire retail estate, saving up to 2,500 jobs, just weeks after the company's collapse. Chief executive John, 70, and chair Irene, 65, believe they can make a success of running a large high street travel business, despite critics suggesting that Thomas Cook's retail arm was key to its downfall.
But John Hays hit back, saying: 'Thomas Cook had a near-death experience about eight years ago and it was on the brink of going bust then under the weight of its debt. 'It had limped along since then under this debt burden. I think the term that's normally used is 'zombie company' because it had so much debt.
© Provided by Associated Newspapers LimitedHays Travel, run by husband and wife team John and Irene, last week shocked the travel industry by agreeing to buy Thomas Cook's entire retail estate
'It was spending so much money servicing the debts that all of its profits got eaten up by interest charges. Once you get into that situation, you're at your overdraft limit, then you can't afford to keep investing in your business. 'The latter directors have taken a lot of flak, but I think the problems started a long time ago.'
A source close to Meysman said: 'There is no evidence to suggest that a private buyer of Thomas Cook would have been any more successful at saving the business. Thomas Cook's challenge has always been debt and its inability to fund a change in its business model.'
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