Hays Travel confirmed founder and managing director John Hays ‘died while doing the job he loved’ today, November 13.
The firm has branches in Horsham, Crawley, Rustington, Worthing, Hassocks, Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath.
In a statement, Hays Travel said: “It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to announce that John Hays, the founder and Managing Director of Hays Travel died today, while doing the job he loved.
“John, who with his wife and co-owner Irene Hays bought the Thomas Cook retail estate a year ago, was at work in the company’s Sunderland Head Office when he collapsed.”
John built Hays Travel into the UK’s largest independent travel agent providing jobs and careers for thousands of young people over 40 years, a spokesman for the firm said.
He added: “Throughout this past difficult year he did everything in his power to save jobs and protect the travel industry.
“He was held in immense respect by his staff, colleagues, family and friends and was recognised throughout his life for his many achievements.
“He was equally proud of his loyal staff who, under the direction of the board and senior management team, will ensure that the business continues to serve the customers of the UK’s largest independent travel agent as he would have wanted.”