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Thomas Cook CEO 'told staff to ignore media noise' before its collapse

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Thomas Cook employees say they were told to ignore the 'noise' by its chief executive before its collapse. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

Thomas Cook’s chief executive urged staff to ignore the “noise” of media speculation over its fate less than a fortnight before its collapsed, according to former employees.

A memo seen exclusively by Yahoo Finance UK suggests CEO Peter Fankhauser told cabin crew the deal to save the company would be a “complete game changer,” advising them to “stay calm” and reassure customers.

Three former staff members expressed anger at the memo, dated 13 September, which they said they had seen on Thomas Cook’s intranet for staff. One said it gave them “false hope.”

It comes amid growing scrutiny of Thomas Cook’s former leadership and events leading up to its dramatic end, which left thousands of staff out of work and hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded.

committee of MPs announced an inquiry into Thomas Cook and its leaders’ “stewardship” of the company on Thursday, with Labour MP Rachael Reeves claiming its decline “uncovered what appears to be a sorry tale of corporate greed.”

READ MORE: Unemployed cabin crew fear for their homes as they head to Jobcentres

Prime minister Boris Johnson and others have questioned the millions paid in salary and bonuses to top staff in recent years, while the insolvency service is also investigating the circumstances that led to liquidation.

Katie Brown, a former cabin crew member at its airline, said the memo had made her confident until late on Sunday night. She said she had expected a deal to be reached even 10 minutes before it emerged the firm had collapsed.

“Even Sunday, I was on edge but kept thinking of that memo. You can see why we all thought we would be okay. It’s why we are all angry,” she said.

“Obviously it was all in the press, but said it was all noise. Up until Saturday I thought it was just the media.”

READ MORE: ‘Sorry tale of corporate greed’: Thomas Cook leadership face probe by MPs

Ex-Thomas Cook staff say they received this memo. Photo: Screenshot by employee

The memo in Fankhauser’s name said: “As you can imagine there are a multitude of legal and administrative steps that need to be taken, made all the more challenging under the watchful eyes of the external world and the scrutiny of the media.

“On this point, I want to reiterate that we should all expect the next few weeks to be particularly noisy. Everyone will be keen to speculate...While we have many supporters there are also those who will negotiate through the media to protect their own positions.

It continued: “We have to remember that there are many stakeholders who are having to give up a lot to make this deal happen. Now more than ever I need you to rise above this noise, stay calm, keep our customers and suppliers reassured and remain as focussed as you have been throughout this unsettling period.

“When finalised, this deal will be a complete game changer for our business ensuring that we are able to grow and become a strong competitor again from a much more stable financial footing.”

One other ex-employee, speaking anonymously, said it gave staff “false hope.”

Andrea Yates, another cabin crew member, told Yahoo Finance UK she was “absolutely fuming” about the memo, as well as other reassurances reportedly made by senior staff in the group’s airline.

“We were told not to worry,” she said. “I remember being told in August by management not to worry because the airline is profitable in the UK.”

She said ex-staff she knew were also “getting really angry” that a deal had not been reached by Thomas Cook or the British government to keep the UK airline afloat, as two Nordic and German arms of the business have been.

The Thomas Cook group is now being wound up by the Official Receiver, part of the UK government’s insolvency service.

A spokesman for the insolvency service said it would not comment on the company’s affairs before it went into liquidation.

Yahoo Finance UK has also approached Peter Fankhauser for comment. Fankhauser was the chief executive of Thomas Cook Group from 2014 until its collapse on 23 September.