Thomas Cook's independent review is being led by none other than Justin King

The former Sainsbury's boss is still King of customer service.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 05 Nov 2015

A customer-facing business mired in a reputational scandal could always use a knight in shining, consumer-friendly armour – or, in the case of Thomas Cook, a monarch. The holiday company has hired former Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King to conduct an independent review, after the fallout from the death of two children in one of its hotels.

King, who left Sainsbury’s a year ago today, has been tasked with looking at the company’s ‘customer health, safety, welfare, relations and crisis management practices.’ It could definitely use help with the latter two, having been roundly criticised for dragging its feet over apologising to, and compensating, the bereaved parents of Bobby and Christi Shepherd.

It has improved on that front. Chief executive Peter Fankhauser, who took over in November last year after Harriet Green was given the heave-ho, did eventually meet Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd and give the compensation the company got from the hotel owner to charity.

But that didn’t stop outraged types on Twitter calling for a Thomas Cook boycott. Meanwhile, the company’s share price has slid 24% since May.

King, on the other hand, has remained relatively unblemished, despite Sainsbury’s recent struggles to retain market share. He hasn’t exactly put himself in any firing lines, though – the only real public role he’s taken on since leaving is as interim chairman of struggling F1 team Manor Marussia.

‘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,’ Fankhauser said.

‘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.’

As long as the review helps Wood and Shepherd to some form of closure after their loss when it’s released in September, it should help rehabilitate Thomas Cook’s reputation, while burnishing King’s halo. Investors agreed: shares were up almost 1% to 124.3p in mid-morning trading, double the FTSE 250’s rise. They will have to watch their every word though – any hint of a lack of contrition will be pounced upon by the media.

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