“Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm will pursue his principles unto death” – Thomas Paine
When I came into the UK travel industry as a journalist nearly 10 years ago, it seemed to me there were two untouchable businesses: Thomas Cook and Thomson.
In 2011, it was quickly proven how naive I was when a cash shortfall almost pushed Thomas Cook to the wall.
I learned that in the travel industry nothing – ever – is set in stone. That the company responded so well to that chaos and trust rebuilt in the following years was testimony to how much people cared about the brand, both inside and outside of the company.
Goodwill for an iconic brand responsible for kick-starting so many holiday experiences, and so many travel careers, undoubtedly played its part in its revival.
Thomas Cook was a brand that everyone in travel – and millions of consumers – seemed to have a piece of their heart for. Many of them had enjoyed their formative years in travel under its wing, while many companies still had direct business relationships with Cook, its airline, or one its many divisions.
It was new chief executive Harriet Green, and her highly-paid design agency, that introduced the “sunny heart” to the company logo in 2013, along with a new strapline: “Let’s Go!”
Green took the message literally the following year, and the impact of her two-year reign at the top will continue to be reassessed.
But the view of Thomas Cook as a “business with heart” and a highly positive people culture has remained, areas that have only grown in the past five years under group chief executive Peter Fankhauser and UK boss Chris Mottershead and his team.
I really enjoyed spending time with some of its brightest young stars when they became members of the TTG 30 Under 30.
And on the few occasions I dropped into Westpoint in Peterborough, the new offices the company moved to in 2016, you could tell this was a business its people still really cared for.
It was heart that seemed for a time this weekend that might even keep the brand alive – who knows, perhaps it still will in some form or another.
The outpouring of positive and sincere sentiments for the brand across social media this week is little less than extraordinary.
But the sad truth is that goodwill, passion and heart were never going to be enough to keep a business alive on their own. At least not a business with debts of £1.6 billion and annual interest payments of £150 million.
There will be benefits of Thomas Cook’s collapse for some areas of the travel industry. But it’s far too early to talk about that, with the futures of 9,000 people hanging in the balance, and with the true fallout too difficult to assess.
The early hours of Monday 23 September 2019 will go down in history as the time that heart finally stopped beating.