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Thomas Cook's Nordic business lives on after private equity deal

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Billionaire Petter Stordalen's Strawberry Group will team up with Altor Fund V and TDR Capital to take over the assets of Thomas Cook Northern Europe, or Vinggruppen, the group said on Wednesday.

[OSLO] The Nordic operations of Thomas Cook Group Plc have been bought by a group of local investors, a little over a month after the parent company went bust.

Billionaire Petter Stordalen's Strawberry Group will team up with Altor Fund V and TDR Capital to take over the assets of Thomas Cook Northern Europe, or Vinggruppen, the group said on Wednesday.

"Their great industry expertise and financial strength give us the long-term stability we need," Magnus Wikener, head of Vinggruppen i Norden, said in the statement. "This agreement also means saving the jobs of just over 2,300 people working in Vinggruppen, including our airline."

Thomas Cook's collapse on Sept 23 led to 9,000 job losses in the UK and left 150,000 people stranded overseas, with the holiday plans of thousands more ruined. The company, which described itself as Britain's largest independent travel agent, was founded four decades ago and had sales of more than US$1.3 billion last year, directly employing 1,900 people.

Strawberry Group and Altor will each buy 40 per cent of the company, while TDR will own the remaining 20 per cent, they said in the statement without disclosing a price for the acquisition. The investors said they will now work to secure about US$620 million in liquidity and guarantees.

Vinggruppen's business includes tour operators Ving, Spies and Tjareborg, as well as a hotel chain with about 1.6 million guests a year. The operators and airline Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia have continued as an independent company since the bankruptcy.

Stordalen owns about 194 hotels through his Nordic Choice chain and is Norway's 11th richest person with a US$2.9 billion fortune, according to an annual ranking by Norway's Kapital magazine. He has also invested in restaurants, debt collection and cruise operator Hurtigruten.

Swedish private equity firm Altor manages about US$9.2 billion with a contrarian investment strategy, while London-based TDR has about US$8.8 billion of committed capital across three European buyout funds and targets undermanaged, underinvested or misunderstood companies, according to their websites.

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