AIB Featured Business Leader – Harriet Green

AIB Featured Business Leader – Harriet Green

Boasting an extensive resume and a bevy of awards under her belt, British businesswoman Harriet Green has a lot to teach us aspiring businesspeople. Her career is famous for transformations – this includes the revival of struggling businesses, as well as taking them global, boosting their profitability and digitising them. Harriet Green has successfully implemented transformations for the likes of IBM and the Thomas Cook Group on numerous occasions, proving her significant value in an often-volatile environment.

Early life and education

Born in Cheltenham, England in 1961, Green grew up in the Cotswolds before moving to London to study Medieval History at King’s College and Business Psychology at the London School of Economics. When she began progressing in the business world, Green undertook various business courses in strategy, leadership and finance at the Harvard Business School between the years of 1996 and 2006. Education has played a big part in Green’s career progression, providing her a solid basis to thrive in high profile global roles in the past ten or so years.


Starting her career in the electronic components industry, Green seized the opportunity to work in Europe, the United States and Asia early in her career. She quickly progressed, becoming Managing Director of Macro Group, before being appointed President of the Asia Pacific sector of Arrow Electronics in 2002. Green then got her first CEO role in 2006 at Premier Farnell, a global electronics distribution business.

She shot into the spotlight in 2012 when she became CEO of the Thomas Cook Group – a travel organisation that was in turmoil and at risk of folding. She didn’t get the job through a recruitment process – instead she revealed to The Telegraph that she cold-called the chairman and told him, “You need me”. During her tenure at Thomas Cook, Green made both friends and enemies, but managed to turn the business around substantially, increasing its share value tenfold. When her departure was announced, the company’s shares lost £350m in value.

This high profile background saw Green step into a role that leads three IBM divisions – the Internet of Things, Commerce and Education Business, which she still occupies at present. Her current position is set to expand to oversee a unit that will eventually comprise more than 2000 consultants, researchers and developers that take advantage of IBM’s Watson, analytics and cloud. When asked why she chose IBM as her next step, Green told Computer Weekly, “If you look at what I’ve done in my career, it’s been a lot of transformations. IBM is one of the few companies in the world that has reinvented itself – three, possibly four major transformations in its tenure. I was very attracted to that intensity of change. I love tech and I’d missed it”.

On women in the boardroom

Considered a fierce board member herself, Harriet Green urges women to be more pro-active in winning board appointments. At Fortune’s Powerful Women conference in London, she said, “What’s stopping you? When I took the role at Thomas Cook, I wasn’t headhunted. No one approached me. I contacted the chairman and said I think you need me.” She had no prior connections with the chairman previously and said, “I hadn’t done travel. But I had done other transformations”. One of her first transformations at the travel firm was to replace the board almost in its entirety. Three of the seven directors became women and the company continued to appoint both non-executives and females from across the organisation to shake it up.

Achievements and work ethic

According to The Guardian, Harriet Green works through much of the night, insisting she requires fewer hours sleep than Margaret Thatcher once did, rising around 3am. With only four hours sleep, she is in the gym by 5:30am with her personal trainer, then off to work from there. She boasts a range of prestigious awards for her work, including the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year 2014 and UK Leader of the Year 2013. 

What do you think?

It’s clear that Harriet Green has achieved a great deal in her career and is not slowing down anytime soon. I am interested to see if she steps back into a CEO role one day, or whether she’ll continue working with IBM for years to come. I am keen to hear your thoughts – what do you admire most about her work?

This article was written by Laura Hutton on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources have been used to prepare this article: Wikipedia, The Telegraph, Computer Weekly, LinkedIn, Fortune, and The Guardian.

Image Credit: CBI

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