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Meet Britain's Best Business Leader - Harriet Green

Jim Riley

2nd October 2014

Students attending our BUSS4 exam coaching workshops will know that I'm a big fan of Harriet Green, the CEO who has done so much to lead the turnaround of Thomas Cook. In fact, I'd almost go as far as to say that Harriet Green is my favourite CEO. Except, of course, that there is Howard Schultz of Starbucks who has long held that position in my mind!Nevertheless I highly recommend that business students take some time to learn more about the leadership and management style of Harriet Green who was awarded the Leader of the Year accolade at the 2013 National Business Awards.Here are two articles which I think are pretty accessible to students wanting to undertake this research.

Management Today (Jan 2014)

In this in-depth interview with Harriet Green by Andrew Saunders of Management Today we get some terrific insights into what makes Harriet tick and how she has managed to lead one of the most successful turnarounds in UK business history.

You could highlight the entire MT article, but I jotted down the following points as being particularly significant for business students:

  • Harriet gets up at 3.30 a.m. to start work. Incredible energy!
  • She is a detail person - handling all her own emails and managing an active Twitter account (which she sees as a key direct communication channel to customers)
  • She worked hard to get detailed insights into the problems facing Thomas Cook from both an external perspective before joining (e.g. from shareholders, industry analysts) and an internal perspective (e.g. employees & management) as soon as she took the CEO role
  • Thomas Cook had gearing that was simply too high; but underneath the inappropriate financial structure was a fundamentally good business with a particularly strong brand and high degree of customer loyalty and trust

BBC (Oct 2013)

This shorter profile from the BBC covers much of the same ground as the Management Today interview, but adds some extra insights.

Some key points that I noted down:

  • Strength of character (important for a leader making tough decisions) - forged in part by the loss of her father when Harriet was a teenager
  • The starting point for a successful turnaround is organisational culture: "building belief, beginning to rebuild a culture, giving people a self, a sense of renewed self-esteem"
  • Able to moderate her leadership style to take account of the sensitivities she discovered at Thomas Cook
  • Core parts of the turnaround: managing cash better and reducing costs
  • How to judge the success of a new leader? Harriet suggests that 5 years is an appropriate timescale
  • The most important skills and characteristics of a CEO? "resilience, agility, and ability to lead speedy change: to be good with people"
  • CEOs shouldn't stay too long in a business!

Jim Riley

Jim co-founded tutor2u alongside his twin brother Geoff! Jim is a well-known Business writer and presenter as well as being one of the UK's leading educational technology entrepreneurs.

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