Nicky Little from Cirrus writes for The Guardian
Harriet Green, CEO of Thomas Cook, has won the prestigious Veuve Cliquot’s businesswoman of the year award.
Green, who has boosted Thomas Cook’s share price by 950 per cent, and returned the business to profit after previous heavy losses, is one of the UK’s most successful leaders.
Thomas Cook’s remarkable turnaround, heralded as a great British business success story, was one of the main reasons the judges chose to award the esteemed title to Green.
How did she do it? First of all, she was unafraid to go after the job. Recent research shows that usually women will only apply for a new job if they can meet 100 per cent of the criteria. Men? Most of them are happy to apply if they only meet 50 percent. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has also commented that women can be more reluctant than men to go for a job if they don’t have a great deal of relevant knowledge or experience.
Green, despite her lack of travel or leisure industry experience, famously got the Thomas Cook job by cold-calling the chairman of to tell him she was the right person to lead the recovery of the troubled business. At the time, she said she was intrigued by what she described as, “A really good business with a terrible balance sheet.” She was appointed CEO in July 2012.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg discusses how “success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.” Sometimes the higher up the corporate ladder a woman climbs, the less likeable she is perceived to be. This has never bothered Green: “I don’t give a damn about whether people like me, particularly.” Indeed, her self-confidence is demonstrated by the inspirational quote which reportedly hangs on the wall of her office. The quote does not contain words of wisdom from Margaret Thatcher or Oprah Winfrey – it’s a quote from Green herself. Although the words themselves have not been reported, we can bet they’re powerful.
Many leaders assume that tough times call for aggressive leadership, and Green admits she had been aggressive in the past. But she realised quite quickly that the situation at Thomas Cook was too “fragile” to benefit from a forceful approach. Instead she spent time talking, listening, encouraging ideas and boosting innovation. She is a passionate communicator who is skilled at forging connections and engaging people with her vision.
Green is also a great believer in diversity. When she joined Thomas Cook, one of her first tasks in turning the business around was to replace the board almost entirely. Of the seven directors, three – including herself – are women. The executive committee includes four women and six different nationalities. Like many female CEOs, Green does not support quotas for women in the boardroom. She believes that ‘groupthink’, rather than gender, is the main reason to introduce more diversity: “If everyone looks and sounds the same, went to the same schools and the same universities, go to the same country clubs and play on the same golf courses, you’ll get the same behaviour.”
She is passionate about inspiring young women and young men, and has given several talks to schools and colleges. She has said she wants business to be seen as an exciting career choice through which people can make a difference.
A female role model who is passionate, fearless, smart, successful, and skilled at taking other people on the journey? It’s likely Green will carry on being inspirational for many years to come.
© The Guardian 2014