It is an indictment of the travel industry that Thomas Cook had to look outside of the industry for its new chief executive, it has been claimed.
The fact that Harriet Green, chief executive of electronic distributor Premier Farnell, has a strong technology background and that she will help swell the ranks of top women executives in travel has been welcomed.
But disappointment has been expressed that Cook was not able to find an industry insider for the role, although Green is expected to bring a much-needed fresh approach.
Chris Photi, senior partner at Whitehart Associates, said: “I think it’s an indictment of the travel industry in general that Thomas Cook could not find someone from within the industry.
“I understand why they couldn't because I do not think there was anyone of the right calibre and there were very few available candidates not tied up elsewhere.
“I have had a brief look at her CV and it reads pretty well. She looks to be a very experienced business woman, but the problem Cook is going to have is she is going to take six months to learn the ropes. She is only going to be as good as her middle management and what they teach her.
“Maybe the industry is too insular and someone from outside will bring fresh ideas. I think it’s great that one of the big two is headed by a woman – I think she will bring a different perspective.”
Steve Endacott, On Holiday Group chief executive, said the most important thing for Cook was that after nine months without a chief executive it now had leadership.
“I think it’s great that Thomas Cook has got a new chief executive. More crucially than who it was in the short-term is the fact that they have made an appointment.
“I have never met her but it must be a good thing that she has a technology background in a market place that’s becoming more and more tech savvy.
“Too many people make out that it’s a pre-requisite that you have to have travel experience – what a load of rubbish. As an industry we have a tendency to blow smoke up our own backsides.”
“What’s more important is that you give leadership and understand the technical requirements to take your business forward."
Photi said the appointment was clearly not one that had been determined by Cook's main shareholders, the banks, with which it agreed new loan arrangements in recent months to secure its future.
But he said it would have been an appointment made in close collaboration with the banks. “It’s taken nine months, which shows what a problem position it was to fill.
“They have obviously had to go through a headhunting exercise and even though it may not have been a bank appointment Cook would not have appointed anyone unacceptable to the banks.”
Photi agreed with Endacott that Green’s technology background was important. “Technology is the name of the game for travel.
“It’s an indictment of the industry that we used to have a big four, now we have a big two, and we have lost a whole raft or fairly sizeable tour operators like XL [Leisure Group] and all the main Greek and Turkish operators.
“The market has gone somewhere and it’s gone to the online travel agents because of their technology.”
Ian Brooks, managing director of Pure Genie digital recruitment, said: "It's great news that they've found someone as it's never good to run without a leader for too long.
"It's great that she's female and she's got a strong background in technology, as online is increasingly important for every travel business.
"The controversial thing is that she's not from travel, but an interesting parallel would be Carolyn McCall of Easyjet. She didn't come from a travel background, but she's done a very good job."
Brooks said Green's priorities would be to continue with the divestment process to reduce the company's debts and devise a new strategy for the business.
"She will also have to re-energise the people in the organisation who may have been feeling a little bit insecure without a long term leader."
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