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Harriet Green: A Brand Decision Over A Business One


The six-year tenure Harriet Green had forecast for her role as Chief Executive of Thomas Cook came to an abrupt end last week. The rumor mill churns, spitting out the party line that the departure, with immediate effect, was unanimous. Were there other reasons the chief exec left in such a hurry? Had Green been raising her profile with an eye on a different prize? Had she angered the board with her “personality cult?” Either way, this departure was a brand decision rather than a business one. 

For the last two years the Thomas Cook brand has stood in the shadows of its Chief Exec. For many, the media and the city insiders in particular, Green came to represent this brand. The fact that the share price rose from 14p to 139.9p is credited as her success not theirs. It was her who graced the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine back in October hailed as a “super boss” and her who was invited to advise David Cameron on the countries business matters. It seemed that the only time Thomas Cook had any attention was as a footnote to Green and, more tellingly, after her departure was announced, so was the news that the company’s shares had taken a 20% tumble. 

For many successful businesses moving a member of your senior management team out into the public arena is a wise move. Steve Jobs, most famously, became almost as iconic as the Apple logo. Sheryl Sandberg has taken her role as COO of Facebook and used it as a platform to promote women in business - both examples show the successes that can be had. However, what seemed to be missing from the relationship at Thomas Cook was this brand unity demonstrated by the most successful examples. 

When the travel agents refreshed its brand last year, with Green leading from the front, they claimed that it was more than just a logo. It was a “renewed promise to our customers, our people and suppliers. A promise that we’re putting them at the heart of our transformation.”  What has become clear over the last twelve months is the brand promise existed only in that logo and that although Green managed to become the face of Thomas Cook, the reality was much different. For Green and her colleagues any interaction they had publicly should have come with a responsibility to that promise. To show how every part of their brand is defined and motivated by this. What happened instead was Green was allowed to put herself at the centre rather than the brand. The brand promise was therefore weakened by those responsible for delivering it. 

What happened last week exists as a fine example of the importance of understanding brand and reminder that it exists not only in your visual identity and your advertising, but in every part of your business.

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