Harriet Green is one of the most charismatic business leaders of the last few years.
A fitness fanatic who claims to get by on just three-and-a-half hours sleep a night and whose personal trainer is a former Marine and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, she has been garlanded for the turnaround achieved at Thomas Cook since she became chief executive two years ago.
In fairness, not all of the turnaround is down to Ms Green: when she took the helm at the tour operator in July 2012, the business had already been rescued from financial collapse by Sam Weihagen, a Swedish travel industry veteran.
He stepped in as interim chief executive eight months earlier following the departure of Manny Fontenla-Novoa, who had been in charge since 2007 and who has since been blamed for many of Thomas Cook’s problems.
Yet if she was not responsible for the financial rescue of the business, Ms Green has certainly been responsible for an impressive operational turnaround .
She took an axe to costs, stripping out capacity to ensure a recovery in profit margins, while closing high street stores that were no longer viable amid the move to internet booking.
In all, she has stripped out getting on for £500m-worth of costs.
She tidied up Thomas Cook’s sprawling portfolio, cutting the number of brands used by the company from 85 to 30, while relaunching the website, raising the number of exclusive hotels the company offers customers and even redesigning the Thomas Cook logo into what has become known as a “sunny heart.”
Along the way, she had to deal with many distractions, such as an uncertain security situation in many of Thomas Cook’s previously popular holiday destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt, whose president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was personally lobbied by Ms Green.
All this has been rewarded by a surge in Thomas Cook shares that took the company’s stock market value from £148m to just under £2bn prior to news of her departure.
As unusual as her departure was, was the manner of her arrival. Ms Green was not head-hunted for the role but got the job after emailing Frank Meysman, the Thomas Cook chairman, after reading about the company’s problems in the business pages with a simple message: “I think you need me.”
He was impressed by what he saw but also in Ms Green’s favour was an impressive CV that boasted a turnaround at the helm of Premier Farnell, an electrical components distributor where she had become chief executive in 2006 at the age of just 44, having previously headed US-based Arrow Electronics.
At Premier Farnell, a focus on the internet and on targeting engineers who tell their bosses what to order were the keys to her success, as well as exploiting the opportunities created by new markets such as dealing with hazardous substances – like mercury, lead and cadmium – in electronic components.
It is not yet clear what Cheltenham-born Ms Green will do next. But she will now be top of any lists compiled by City headhunters should any big corporate jobs become available during coming months.
And those chief executives currently under-fire for their performance will now be looking nervously over their shoulder now that she is on the market.