Leading industry figures have admitted they were surprised by today’s announcement that Harriet Green was to leave Thomas Cook with immediate effect – despite her previous insistence that she expected to remain in the role for only a short period.
While most praised her impact on the fortunes of the travel giant, some felt that she should have stayed longer to deliver on her strategy.
Former Abta chairman and Thomson executive John McEwan said: “No-one can take away what Harriet Green has achieved in the last two years; she’s done a fantastic job rebuilding confidence with the City and staff and made tough decisions. Thomas Cook was on its knees when she joined and there was a question mark over whether it would survive.”
But he added: “The company is now in the phase of sharpening up its product proposition and generally speaking you would expect a chief executive to see the company through that stage. If she had spent another 12 months there we would have seen even more progress. Another year would have cemented it.”
Referring to Green’s outgoing comments that “her job was done”, former Cook executive Richard Calvert said: “A lot of good work has been done in rebuilding Thomas Cook, but Harriet Green saying that the “job is done” is inaccurate . There is still a tremendous amount to do.”
Former Tui Travel managing director Dermot Blastland said: “You don’t fix a company the size of Thomas Cook in 24 months. The guy that should take the credit of where they’ve got to today is (group chief financial officer) Michael Healy.”
Miles Morgan Travel owner Miles Morgan said: “It’s not necessarily a surprise; I never thought she’d be there for that long a period.
“She can say the job is done but really it’s just starting. She has got the company to a more sound financial position but she hasn’t done anything to move it forward from there.”
Paul Riches, sales director at lowcostbeds said: “Whilst Harriet did a fantastic turnaround job, the fundamental issues around forward trading and improving profitability remain the same.”
Despite surprise over the timing of the announcement, which shocked analysts and shareholders alike, travel executives felt Green had largely delivered on her promises for Cook.
Derek Jones, managing director of Kuoni, said: “By any measure, Harriet’s done a great job in the short time she’s been at Thomas Cook. She always said that she wasn’t in it for the long run so her departure at this point should not have come as a huge surprise. Thomas Cook is a great brand and Peter Fankhauser will make an excellent successor. I wish him well in his new role.”
Roger Allard, chairman of All Leisure Group, added: “Whilst it’s unusual for the CEO to leave a company overnight, Harriet Green always said she would only be there for two years. I expect she has other irons in the fire.”
And Ian Brooks, managing director of Pure Genie, said her departure could now clear the way for more experienced travel industry executives to lead future strategy: “She’s a company fixer,” he said.
“She was like the company doctor who came in and gave emergency medical assistance but perhaps Thomas Cook now needs a travel person to take it to the next level. We never really got to know her.”
Suppliers and third-party agents said they hoped that some of the changes introduced during Green’s tenure – including a re-focus on cruise and cross-channel price parity – would remain following her departure.
Paul Ludlow, UK managing director of Princess Cruises said: “Harriet Green’s steered Thomas Cook back in the right direction and from a cruise perspective, they are starting to turn around their performance so I hope that continues under Peter Fankhauser.”
John Sullivan, commercial director of Advantage Travel Partnerships: “One of the biggest wins from a retail point of view was Thomas Cook’s introduction of price parity which has been fantastic for the retail sector.”
And Advantage managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said added: “I have never held the view that Harriet Green’s tenure was for the long term and I assume part of the plan has been to ensure a new team around her would continue to lead the organisation once the ‘turnaround’ was complete.
“Our relationship with Thomas Cook is an important one and I’m sure Peter and his team will continue to establish partnerships with independent agency groups such as Advantage. In light of Harriet’s departure I am not anticipating any changes to how we work with Thomas Cook.”
Gary Lewis, group managing director of The Travel Network Group said: “We are surprised by Harriet’s departure, having only been in the position for two years.
“However we have a good relationship with Thomas Cook and hope that Peter Fankhauser and his UK team continue to be supportive of the important independent travel sector.”
Alistair Rowland, group general manager for travel at the Midcounties Co-operative, said: “Whilst we are a little surprised at the timing, Harriet Green was always clear that her role was to turn around the organisation, not run it beyond that.
“We certainly look forward to developing a partnership with their new management team going forward, based on growth and opportunity.”