Skiing: Someone's Got to Do it

JOHN DONALDSON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THOMAS COOK
What's a typical day like?

There isn't a typical day, because running an international travel business involves being close to what's going on in the market place, which means a lot of travelling. Monday to Friday, in fact, I don't often surface at home, and I spend most of my time out in the business, wherever it may be, which probably means a third of my time travelling overseas.

Lots of people would regard that as a wonderful life.

They may, but when you've been doing it for many, many years, there's nothing nicer than spending a weekend at home with the family - or spending time away with the family. Taking a vacation is important - you can't work all the time.

Where have you been on holiday in the past year?

Easter in Barbados, a short break in Scotland, and walking in Mallorca.

Who do you book all these holidays with?

One of our own shops. And I am a very demanding customer.

What's it like for them when the boss says "Right, I want a holiday?"

Hopefully, they treat me like any other customer - and they give me what I want.

Are you a good traveller, or are you demanding?

I'm probably pretty unreasonable, really. I don't like delays, I'm impatient at check-in, and like anybody I want my aspirations to be met - what I've bought, I want to be delivered, and I get ratty if it's not.

What's the biggest burden about running a company like Thomas Cook?

There isn't one. It's a delightful business, which is why I've spent my life in it. All of us are fortunate in working in a sector which is growing; it's a fun business - travel can never be boring - and there aren't any dull moments. The biggest challenge we've got is the one of making good returns for our shareholders. It's a very, very competitive market.

Surely it's becoming even more competitive, with lots of new companies moving in, using e-commerce and taking lots of business from established players?

I'd question whether they are taking lots of business. My own view is that the likes of ourselves, Thomson and Airtours are offering what we call "clicks and mortar", that is, giving the opportunity to get information over the Internet, maybe book over the Internet, but also to visit a branch or ring a call centre. So I don't feel particularly threatened by the new entrants. My view is good luck to them.

The party question: you're at a party, and someone finds out what it is you do. What question do they invariably ask, and how do you respond?

"Where do you go on your holidays?" My next holiday is a school ski trip with my 15-year-old son, travelling on a 16-hour coach journey to a resort in Italy.

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