Friday 22 May 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Humility Before Profit

Could an incident that occurred a decade ago create more reputational damage now for the company involved than when the incident first occurred? This is arguably the case for Thomas Cook, who have been under immense pressure in recent weeks over their handling of the high-profile deaths of two children on holiday in Corfu in 2006.

The Independent’s view “a tragedy to a corporate disaster” has been widely voiced, with the public and media consensus being that Thomas Cook’s communications strategy is “too little too late”.

Timeline of events:
  • April 2015 – Inquest begins into deaths of the Shepherd children.
  • 13 May – Manny Fontenla-Novoa, CEO at the time of the tragedy, appears as a witness to the inquest but refuses to answer a series of questions. Peter Fankhauser, current CEO, tells inquest that Thomas Cook has done "nothing wrong". Inquest jury returns verdict of unlawful killing and says Thomas Cook "breached its duty of care".
  • 17 May – Shepherd family reveals it received £350,000 in compensation from the hotel owners for their children’s deaths. It emerges later that day that the hotel paid Thomas Cook up to £3.5m in compensation.
  • 18 May – Thomas Cook offers to pay compensation it received to Unicef and apologises to the family.
  • 20 May – Fankhauser apologises to the family and says he is "deeply sorry".
  • 21 May – Fankhauser meets with the parents face to face, giving a “sincere and heartfelt apology” and agrees to donate an undisclosed sum to six charities of the parents’ choice. In addition, the parents requested that the bungalow where the tragedy took place be demolished and replaced with a “lasting tribute” in the form of a playground.

Thomas Cook’s mistakes and subsequent quick fixes have caused immeasurable damage to the firm’s reputation and future value as they enter a crucial trading period. The Group would expect to be selling holidays to families gearing up for the summer break. Meanwhile, it has been reported that around £75m has been wiped off the company’s share price this week as investor’s dumped stock. Only time will tell whether the share price will recover. This will largely depend on any subsequent actions the Company take to stop the rot.

Fankauser has now done what his predecessor should have done back in 2006; given the parents a sincere apology.

Holly Ward, co-founder of The Forge commented: “As a nation we respond well to humility; even if Peter Fankhauser didn’t want to imply his company was to blame by offering an apology to the parents of Bobby and Christi Shepherd, a little humility would have gone a long way in showing his company actually cared. The Unicef donation smacked of a quick fix that missed its mark.”

The incident can serve as a lesson not only for Thomas Cook, but the majority of companies. Thomas Cook went far too much down the legal route, allowing its lawyers and bean counters to dictate how it dealt with a grieving family, instead of actioning a robust crisis communications plan, or having the inclination to do the right thing.

Julian Pike, Head of Reputation Management at Farrer & Co stated: “From the outset, Thomas Cook should have made the family its priority, irrespective of the legal advice or insurers' requirements. Its own financial wellbeing should also have come a long way second.”

This week, Abchaps hosted an Asia themed market lunch where economic opportunities in the region were explored and the potential impact on the London IPO market was discussed.

Andrew Penny joined EY from JP Morgan as Senior Advisor to its real estate corporate finance team; Judith Mackenzie, Partner at Acuity Capital and Senior Investment Manager at Aberdeen Asset Management Growth Capital, joined the board of Quoted Companies Alliance, whilst Kelly Tubman Hardy joined Hogan Lovells’ corporate practice in Baltimore from DLA Piper.

“Stop the rot”: to take action against something bad, before it spreads and becomes worse

If craft beer is your thing, head along to the Old Royal Naval College, and try over 80 different types of draft beer at Brewfest; Greenwich.

This weekend sees a particularly British pastime, with the Gloucestershire cheese rolling taking place, where you can throw yourself down a hill after Cheddar!

Finally, Kew Gardens is holding a Full of Spice festival, starting this weekend. With everything from a Strictly Spice dance-off to a pop up bar, this festival has everything.

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