Lastminute's co-founder hands over the reins

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The Independent Online

Brent Hoberman, one of the original dot.com wunderkinder, is throwing in the towel at lastminute.com, the travel company he cofounded eight years ago.

Less than a year after selling out to Travelocity, which is part of the US giant Sabre Holdings, Mr Hoberman is handing control of lastminute to its chief operating officer, Ian McCaig.

At the time, Mr Hoberman promised to stay on as chief executive for at least three years but said yesterday: "People change their minds."

Giving up the day job will leave him free to plough the £26m he pocketed from the deal into other business ventures. "An entrepreneur often doesn't want to run their business for ever. It's time to look outside at other entrepreneurial opportunities," he said. He ruled out making a fresh start in another travel business - something lastminute's former finance director, David Howell, has done - but said he was "wedded" to internet-based ventures.

Mr Hoberman launched lastminute, which he dreamt up with Martha Lane Fox, on April Fool's Day 1998 when he was 29. The pair went on to embody the boom and bust of the internet bubble after lastminute's much-hyped flotation in March 2000 at 380p ended in tears for most of its investors when the shares later crashed to 17p. Ms Lane Fox, who has made at least £18m from lastminute, bowed out of the business two years ago.

The end of an era at lastminute could herald the start of another for the duo, Mr Hoberman admitted. "Never say never, although we have no current plans." He was adamant he was not tempted to follow Ms Lane Fox into the world of karaoke. She has invested part of her fortune in an upmarket Soho karaoke bar called Lucky Voice and plans to turn it into a chain. "I can't sing," Mr Hoberman said.

Mr Hoberman is not cutting all ties with the internet-based travel group. He will stay on as a part-time chairman, working one or two days a week. This means he will still have a say in the brand, the technology and innovation.

Although he is keen to dish out advice to budding young entrepreneurs, Mr Hoberman insisted he would not be popping up on any business reality television shows, such as the BBC's Dragons' Den.

Sabre acquired lastminute last July for £577m, to steal a march on its rival Expedia, which is owned by IAC's Barry Diller. Mr McCaig, 40, joined lastminute two years ago from Nokia.

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