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Bold moves preserve 173-year-old brand

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

After years of steep losses, Thomas Cook Group earned a profit with Harriet Green at the helm. When she became the struggling British travel company’s CEO in July 2012, it was burning through cash.

Her turnaround strategy: Make decisive decisions, quickly.

Fearless by nature, Green, 52, won the CEO job by cold-calling Thomas Cook’s chairman and saying, “You need me.” She was the successful CEO of a global electronics distribution company, but she had never worked in the travel industry.

“I had to save 30,000 jobs, keep 90 planes flying and preserve a 173-year-old brand,” she says of her new job at Thomas Cook. “It was intense, important work and I didn’t know travel, which was tough.”

Almost immediately, however, she made a series of bold moves. First, she replaced most of the board of directors and replaced two-thirds of management.

“A third of the people I inherited were fabulous,” she says. “I promoted a third from within and a third were all new.”

She also reduced operating costs by merging the firm’s British, German and Belgian airlines, selling off its Canadian unit and closing many of the company’s travel agent stores.

To preserve morale, she focused on internal communication. Knowing that her massive restructuring of the company would trigger questions and concerns, she sought to reassure employees about her turnaround plan.

Through her “Ask Harriet” program, she promised her far-flung workforce that she would respond to any email within 24 hours. She received as many as 200 emails a week and stayed up until 3:30 a.m. to reply to every inquiry.

— Adapted from “Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green hides an iron fist inside her kid glove,” Rebecca Burn-Callander,

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