Takeover seals golden payday for travel firm founder

The founder of travel firm Gold Medal was set for a £47.5m (€53.3m) payday today after Thomas Cook completed its buy-out of the firm.

Ken Townsley, who set up Gold Medal more than 30 years ago, sold just over half of the company to the travel giant for £24.9m (€27.9m) last year.

Preston-based Gold Medal – which also owns Leeds United sponsor netflights and the upmarket Pure Luxury tour operator – specialises in holidays to the US, the Far East and Australasia, as well as holding a market leading position in Dubai.

Mr Townsley, a former baggage handler at Blackpool airport, has now earned more than £72m (€80.7m) from the sale of the business, which has 540 staff.

Gold Medal takes around 600,000 travellers to 1,500 destinations every year and made pre-tax profits of £8.1m (€9.1m) on sales of £309.7m (€347.5m) in the year to September 30.

Thomas Cook had an option to buy the rest of the business by March next year. Chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa said the deal underlined its commitment to the independent travel sector.

“Since we acquired a majority stake in the business almost a year ago, Gold Medal has traded exceptionally well, clearly demonstrating the strategic importance of having a strong presence in this market,” he said.

Thomas Cook last month reported underlying pre-tax profits of £308.2m (€345.9m) for the year to September, broadly level with last year despite City predictions of a 3% fall.

The company said the results were “particularly pleasing” against the backdrop of recession and the swine flu outbreak, which cost it an estimated £8m (€9m) in the UK.

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