Thomas Cook's Harriet Green: "Your career is too important to be left to someone else"

Thomas Cook chief executive Harriet Green shares her tips on how to succeed in business.

Take risks and drive innovation. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wrote that "stability isn’t nearly as spectacular as instability", and I believe this is why risks must sometimes be taken and new technologies embraced. We live in a connected world with so many communication channels; social media, mobile devices and tablets matter as much as newspapers and TVs, which is why Thomas Cook is moving forward with a high-tech and high-touch approach. Web is important, but an omnichannel presence is critical. We need to be wherever our customers are and available however they want to communicate with us.

Make sacrifices and move forward. Businesses must continually adapt to the evolving markets around them. Having efficient strategies in place must be one of the key concerns of any good chief executive. Maintaining brand traditions because they may have been successful in the past is no longer a viable option. To transform a business, new strategies need to be implemented and sacrifices accepted.

Speed is the key to driving change. Success isn’t based solely on change, but on changing faster than your customers and competitors; on being ahead of the curve. Decisions need to be made and implemented at speed during a business transformation. The decision you make with most of the facts is rarely the wrong one, but waiting for all of the facts can mean you miss your moment. Google summed up the need for speed perfectly by proving that fast actions done well are incredibly powerful.

Build your trust. A strong brand image that already exists in the public perception is a great building block for trust. Do what you say you will. Keep your word and be known as someone who delivers. Remember that heritage matters and needs to be cherished.

Listen to the voice of your customers. Our customers interact with our business all the time, increasingly through online and social channels, and their habits are changing. Keeping loyal customers means meeting people in the spaces they use and treating them as individuals. Hearing the voice of your customers and suppliers is key to understanding your business’s strengths and weaknesses.

Treat people well and remember who you are. Remember your roots and listen to your employees. Empathise and communicate. Be honest. Don’t over-commit, and always fix what you can. Ask people to share their feedback and be sure to act on it: next time they’ll share more with you. Don’t believe your own publicity too much and learn to laugh at yourself. If your mother could see what you’re about to do, would she be OK with it? I keep writer Maya Angelou’s wise words visible on my pinboard: "People will forget what you said and what you did, but never how you made them feel."

Learn from your mistakes. People make mistakes and that’s OK. It’s how we learn and grow. What is not OK is failing to learn from mistakes, and worse still is repeating them. I think we all need to be learning constantly. I adore books and read avidly, both as a source of knowledge and a means of escape. Own your own learning, read a lot, push forward, "lean in" and have mentors. Your career is too important to be left to someone else.

There’s more to life than work… although many of us don’t like to admit it. We all need downtime, exercise and space to recharge. We are all so much more than the job we do: don’t allow it to define you. Make time for family, friends and taking care of yourself. I love running, cycling and yoga; if you can’t make an hour a day to spend just on yourself, you’ve become a modern-day slave.


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