'Your failures hugely outweigh your successes' - Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves takes aim at 'deluded' Thomas Cook bosses' 'hollow' apologies

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has launched blistering attacks on the bosses of failed holiday firm Thomas Cook as the chief executive defended his bonus of more than half a million pounds.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 1:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 2:27 pm
Left to right, former Chair of Remuneration Committee at Thomas Cook Warren Tucker, former CFO of Thomas Cook Sten Daugaard, former CEO of Thomas Cook Peter Fankhauser, former chairman of Thomas Cook Frank Meysman, and former Chair of Audit Committee at Thomas Cook Martine Verluyten. Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire

Appearing in front of the Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee today - of which Ms Reeves is chair - ex-Chief Executive Peter Fankhauser said he was “deeply sorry” for the company’s collapse.

But Ms Reeves said his apologies would "ring a bit more true" if he was willing to pay back his 2017 bonus worth more than half a million pounds in cash.

The money could be "put to better purpose" such as redundancy payments or compensation for taxpayers, she added.

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She said: "At the moment I'm afraid, Mr Fankhauser, the number of times you've said sorry, it just rings rather hollow when you're not willing to put something back."

Mr Frankhauser replied: "In my reflections I will take that back, chair, and I will consider what is right, but I'm not going to decide that today."

Several former Thomas Cook workers attended the committee hearing - some in their uniforms - to watch Mr Fankhauser and four other senior company figures give evidence.

In his opening remarks, he said: "You heard me probably say it already, but I really want to repeat it in front of the members of the select committee, how deeply sorry we are that we couldn't save this iconic brand and this company who has a long, long standing history in this part of the UK industry.

Former CEO of Thomas Cook Peter Fankhauser speaking to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee at Portcullis House in Westminster, during the inquiry into the collapse of the British travel operator. Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire

"I'm deeply sorry about this failure and I'm deeply sorry for the distress we caused to millions of customers who booked holidays with us and who were on holidays with us.

"I'm deeply sorry for our suppliers who were long-standing partners and who were loyal to us throughout this time.

"I'm especially sorry for all my colleagues who worked extremely hard and tirelessly to make Thomas Cook a better company."

But MPs were quick to call into question some of the accounting policies including the decision to include a £2.5bn "goodwill" value on the business in 2018.

Former Thomas Cook employees arrive at Portcullis House in Westminster for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry into the collapse of the British travel operator. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

They also asked the bosses why they based bonuses on profits that excluded one-off payments to pay for the restructuring. A total of £1.8bn was written as "exceptional" costs over eight years.

Ms Reeves said: "The proof of the pudding is somewhat in the eating and you failed to turn around this business. In the end you couldn't just hide these numbers (exceptionals) forever, they caught up with you."

She also called the former Thomas Cook chairman Frank Meysman "deluded" over the collapse.

Ms Reeves added: "You can point to as many successes as you like but you have brought down a 178-year business with huge repercussions for customers, staff and taxpayers. You can point to the successes but I'll point to the failures and they hugely outweigh the successes you've spoken about. I think you're deluded Mr Meysman about the business you ran."

Former Thomas Cook employees arrive at Portcullis House in Westminster for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee inquiry into the collapse of the British travel operator. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Asked by committee chair Rachel Reeves if there was anything he should have done differently, Mr Fankhauser replied: "I'm generally a very reflective person and I have now had time to reflect what could I have done differently.

"If I could start from scratch, then I would have probably even pushed more on the pace, but it was difficult for me to find the balance between pace and the money you need to transform such a big business at pace."

But he defended his 2017 bonus worth more than half a million pounds in cash.

Ms Reeves asked: "Do you think that that bonus should be paid back and maybe, if I could put it like this, be put to better purpose?

"It could be used to pay the redundancy pay. It could be used to compensate taxpayers who are now bailing out the company which you guided, and you guided in the end onto the rocks, Mr Fankhauser.

"Do you think that bonus should be paid back?"

Mr Fankhauser replied: "I fully understand the sentiment in the public and I understand the sentiment of some of our colleagues.

"However, what I can say to that is that I worked tirelessly for the success of this company and I am deeply sorry that I was not able to secure the deal.

"But it was not one-sided that I failed. There was multiple parties who had to contribute to the deal which finally then didn't succeed."

In her closing remarks, Ms Reeves said: "Peter Fankhauser, you've spoken about the commitment of your staff, and the fact that they're here today - some of them in their uniforms - I think speaks to their commitment to the company you ran and their commitment to the people they served in your company.

"I think they do your company proud and I think you should reflect, Mr Fankhauser, on what you can do to put something back to try and say sorry to the people whose jobs you've taken from them and whose holidays you've ruined.

"You say you're a reflective man. I hope you will go away and reflect on the huge salaries you've earned, salaries that probably in all the lives of some of the people who worked for you will never earn in their while careers, and think about what you can do, not just as a token, but in some way to put right the wrong that you have done.

“Your failure touches on a lot of other people more, I'm afraid, than it touches on the five of you.

"All of you have given your apologies, but frankly, as we've seen time and time again on this select committee, apologies are the easy bit. What is the difficult bit is to actually do something about it.

"To resign from the companies where you are directors today and say 'do you know what, I've got a lot of learning to do before I should be able to have my hands on the tiller of any other company', and give back some of those huge rewards that you have not earned, Mr Peter Fankhauser, but you have received.

"I hope all of you will go away and reflect on some of those things and think about the dignity with which some people who worked for Thomas Cook have acted in, and the dignity that I'm afraid we haven't seen from the board of the company."