Travel agent Thomas Cook is drafting in Justin King, the former boss of supermarket Sainsbury’s, to help it recover from a PR disaster that saw it crucified by the media over the death of two children at one of its hotels.
King ran Sainsbury’s for 10 years, helping turn around the supermarket with nine years of consecutive profit growth.
The charismatic executive, who left Sainsbury’s last year, is well liked by the media, known as a smooth talker with a cool head for business.
King is leading a review of Thomas Cook’s health, safety, welfare, relations, and crisis management practices.
The review was announced by Thomas Cook boss Peter Fankhauser on May 21, days after a story in the Mail of Sunday claiming the travel agent received £3.5 million compensation for the death of 2 British children in a Greek hotel — 10 times the amount the parents were paid.
Christianne and Robert Shepherd, 7 and 6, were killed by a carbon monoxide leak from a faulty boiler at a Corfu hotel in 2006.
The compensation story provoked a public backlash and was one of several stories the Mail ran criticising Thomas Cook and Fankhauser, who initially refused to apologise for the children’s deaths. A court found Thomas Cook, who arranged to family holiday to Corfu, had “breached its duty of care.”
Announcing King’s appointment, Fankhauser said in an emailed statement on Thursday: “In May I met Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd, who lost their children, Christi and Bobby, in a tragic accident on a Thomas Cook holiday almost 10 years ago.
“In that meeting, I promised them that we would review our health and safety standards, as well as how we take care of our customers ordinarily and during times of crisis, so that no other parents would ever have to experience what they have gone through.
“I hope that this independent review led by Justin King will play a significant part in supporting the change programme I am committed to implementing across the Thomas Cook business to put the customer at the heart of everything we do.”
King said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to undertake this review. My objective is that it will be a key part of the Thomas Cook programme to put the customer back at the heart of the business, where they belong.”
He will deliver his report to Thomas Cook in September.