Thomas Cook: Harriet Green takes on a historic culture

October 15, 2013

Harriet GreenThomas Cook is an iconic name among British travel agencies. Its new CEO Harriet Green faces tough times for the travel sector as well as having to deal with a resilient corporate culture.

Some years ago I researched the company after reading a historical biography. I was struck by the corporate culture, which reminded me of the provincial ‘assurance companies’ at the time, loyal staff, solid and traditional in its values. Harriet Green faces interesting challenges.

A recent interview in The Independent sketches the leader and her possible dilemmas.

The shelves are wedged with books, as you would expect for a history graduate, and another nod to the past is mounted on the wall overlooking Ms Green’s shoulder: a sepia-tinted portrait of Thomas Cook himself.
She hopes to take a leaf out of the founder’s book. In 1841, the Baptist preacher arranged to take a group of temperance campaigners to a rally 11 miles away, charging a shilling each to cover rail fare and food.
More innovation followed over the decades. Thomas Cook was the first company to develop travellers’ cheques, a low-cost airline and the round-the-world trip. Now Ms Green is leading the march for new products beyond the company’s sun, sea and sangria core. That means city breaks and winter sun and catering better for discrete categories of holidaymaker, such as Nordic divorcees.

She has closed shops but refashioned others, which look “a lot more Apple than travel”. Sunseekers can now load their vacation wishes on to an iPad and take them home to discuss with the family.
Ms Green has been vocal about women putting themselves forward for top jobs, and wrote to Frank Meysman, Thomas Cook’s chairman, to tell him she had the skills he needed even though her background was in electronics, not travel. “I felt I had enough experience, that I would be pacy, resilient and be able to generate belief,” she says. Thomas Cook shares fell when her appointment was announced – but have risen tenfold now.
“You ask any chairman, any chief executive: it is about getting women, from 13-year-olds to 25-year-olds who take business degrees, to think running a business is good and positive and fun.”
Ms Green climbed the corporate ladder starting as a trainee at Macro, which distributed semiconductors, and rising to be UK managing director. Her next company, Arrow Electronics, gave her a larger canvas. After setting up its European network, she travelled to Africa, Asia and America.

“My last meeting is usually at six or seven and then I do my reading and emails. I make a commitment to everyone I’ve ever worked with that every email they send me will be responded to in the day. I’m the only chief executive I know who does all her own emails – that is something very personal and important to me.”

Ms Green has shaken up her senior team at Thomas Cook, with a third of her lieutenants promoted from within and a third new appointments.

Leaders and leadership

Some aspects of culture in the company seem to have survived. I noted the mention of the founder’s portrait in the article cited above. It’s the one that was an ever-present ghost of Thomas Cook in the old corporate headquarters.

As for emails: I applaud Harriet Green’s energy. But with 30,000 staff with direct access, I wondered about the cultural discouragements still present to deter most employees attempting to communicate ‘over’ a line manager. Maybe that’s how the emails arrive in manageable numbers each day?


Writing a post for Leaders We Deserve

October 10, 2013

Tudor RickardsLeaders we deserve (LWD) welcomes blog posts on topics relating to leadership. Here are a few suggestions which will help a post towards publication

Note to MBSW MBA students
These notes are provided for general contribution to LWD. You will find specific information on writing a blog post within your course instructions, which have slightly different requirements to the following

Get a feel for the LWD house style

Over 600 blog posts had been published on this site by January 2011. A house-style had emerged. New authors are encouraged to find the sort of post they would like to emulate and follow its structure, using the hints suggested here.

Write in clear English

LWD posts have been modelled to some degree on the style to be found in that excellent publication The Economist.

Use a plain (‘vanilla’) format if you are an inexperienced blogger

A plain (sometimes disparagingly called a vanilla) format is recommended for inexperienced bloggers to submit material to LWD. A simple word document will do.

Can I submit in WordPress format?

Yes. Experienced authors can prepare a post using a document prepared for saving as a WordPress post.

To do this, you first have set up your own WordPress blog, and write to its Edit Post facility. The result will then have all WordPress embeds (bold, itals, even images). You can publish on the same blog, and/or save and paste the content to submit to LWD.

Starting a WordPress blog is easy and free.

Length of post

Our typical posts are about 600 words long. We welcome briefer posts (it’s harder to be concise than to be verbose). We rarely accept extended posts, as these may be too contrary to LWD style.

Write about a single issue

A post in LWD typically examines a single issue (not a range of diverse personal thoughts, as might appear in a diary e-journal).

The topic or issue that you write about will have a central idea which often connects with a contemporary news story. Sometimes a quote from the earlier text helps. By adding a link to that post you retain important accurate information.

Create a simple clear title

The title should explain the story. Descriptive titles are to be preferred over displays of creativity which may be ignored by many web surfers who might be interested in the point you make in the actual post. Short titles are better than long ones. [Experienced writers sometimes use long titles for creative impact.]

Add value

You can (and are advised to) add value for the reader to the contemporary story you are dealing with. You can add value by taking a news item further, drawing on personal experience.

Another good way of adding value is to show how the story you are writing about connects to some prevailing concept of leadership.

Find an interesting topic

It a topic interests you, it is likely to interest others. Get into the habit of story-telling, which is a skill you can develop through writing, but also through conversations as well as more formal presentations. You can see the news stories which caught the eye of the Editor by looking at the entries saved to del.icio.us (on the Right Hand side-bar of every LWD post).

Use a taster to focus your writing

The first paragraph or taster is often picked up by web-searches. A brief introduction which acts as an invite or teaser (‘there’s more to come’) helps. Forty words or less is to be preferred. This will appear in Bold face in the published post.

Edit

It is a good habit to be self-critical and edit your post as if it were to be submitted for a prize. It’s worth the effort. The ‘right first time’ approach rarely works. For example, this page will be saved in draft form, and re-drafted to smooth out the worse parts of the style with help from spell checker and sometimes colleagues.

This advice is particularly important if you want your post to attract interest and maybe be re-sent to others (the basis of viral marketing).

Add value through a few links

Key items for web-searchers are the links you create in your post. If you don’t know, a link or URL is made by pasting the identifier (URL) of any web story you refer to. The URL is what is clicked to get a reader of the post back to the story.

The process is the same as cutting and pasting any piece of computer-generated text.

Breaking the rules

Creative writing breaks rules. You may want to break some of the rules in the interest of producing your personal style or just to be different. This is how innovation occurs. On the other hand, the rules help get you started, and increase your chances of a smooth process of acceptance of your posts.

Tags

Tags are the DNA elements of your post. They are a way in which search engines latch on to web content and for you to search pages of LWD. Try to capture the story with four or five tags (words or key phrases). Add the tags in a final line:

Blogging, Leaders we deserve, WordPress, copy writing, leadership, global issues would be candidate tags for this page

About yourself
You can provide information briefly about yourself as you might do for any social media site. See posts in LWD for examples. The information is added to the end of the post.

How to submit your proposed post

You can submit your proposed post at present by email [trickards@mbs.ac.uk], or you can send a comment to any LWD post, indicating your interest in providing content for a future post.

To go more deeply

Here’s a current blog dealing with how to write blog posts


Twitter goes public: a few tweets

September 13, 2013

When Twitter announced it was going public, Leaders we Deserve Editor in Tweet provided his own tweets to mark the news

Friday 13th September 2013

1. Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet now
@smh Thanks.Your article on twitter has encouraged me to review my earlier blogs from the time I wondered what Twitter’s business model is
Details
2. Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet now
Further thoughts on Twitter. What I like: unexpectedness of tweets from people with primary focus to communicate not capitalize
Details
3. Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet now
Further thoughts of twitter: What I dislike, Use as crude and sometimes covert advertising [lessons to be learned from TV commercials]
Details
4. Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet now
I tweet therefore I am. I don’t tweet because I am something else
Details
5. Tudor Rickards ‏@Tudortweet now
Last twitter tweet for now. Twitter will split into several services whose form and function will be shaped by us the tweeters.
Details

A more formal analysis on how Twitter makes money came from The Sydney Morning Herald. This triggered the Tweets above.

Other early tweeters

1. Reuters India ‏@ReutersIndia 2h
Twitter takes first step toward going public
Expand
2. James Hirsen ‏@thejimjams 3h
Things to know before you load up on Twitter stock
Expand
3. Los Angeles Times

Twitter files for an IPO; five things you should know
As you may have heard, Twitter has filed for a confidential initial public offering of stock, so in case you aren’t too familiar with the company, here are five quick things you should know.
[Also shows original Twitter announcement]


Leadership stories of the week: Bo Xilai, Glenn Greenwald, Narendra Dabholkar

August 22, 2013

In China, the long-running saga of the charismatic leader Bo Xilai reaches court. In the UK, the Brazilian partner of a Guardian journalist is detained at Heathrow. This adds to the Edward Snowden story of the leaking confidential information to the embarrassment of the US and UK government security agencies. In India, Narendra Dabholkar an advocate of rationality, is killed

As this is examination season, I have added brief notes for leadership students.

The Bo Xilai trial

This story of the rise and fall of the charismatic Chinese leader Bo Xilai continues. This week [August 2013] Bo Xilai goes on trial. A long-running drama reaches a critical stage. The story has been followed and been through over twenty updates in an earlier LWD post. These need to be sifted through as a starting point to evaluating what happened in this complex story of leadership, ambition, charisma, and global implications. Writing a post on the trial requires considerable thought or it will be mostly speculation

The Guardian and the latest in the Snowden spy leaks story

In the UK, The Guardian newspaper makes news itself The background to the story according to CNN:

Lawyers acting for David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, said they will bring his case to the High Court in London on Thursday [Aug 22 2013] after he was detained at Heathrow Airport.
Greenwald, who works for The Guardian newspaper, has been at the forefront of high-profile reports exposing secrets in U.S. intelligence programs, based on leaks from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, spent nearly nine hours in detention Sunday being questioned under a provision of Britain’s terrorism laws. He was stopped as he passed through London on his way from Berlin to his home in Brazil.

For students of leadership, we have here a typical ‘story within a story’. An examination of the dilemmas facing the various leaders involved is a worthwhile exercise.

The murder of Narendra Dabholkar

In India, Narendra Dabholkar an advocate of rationality and a kind of Indian Richard Dawkins is killed. The story is being presented as the fate of a modernizing leader threatening traditional ‘superstitions’ and perhaps being killed for his views. This is a version of the dilemmas facing reforming and charismatic leaders.

Postscript

Another UK story. The ‘Best and worse Pensions providers’ are named. I would argue that the review is valuable information, but needs to be recognized as being about ‘best current yield’ rather than ‘best Pension’ providers.


Flourishing organizations and flourishing individuals

May 31, 2013

The Fowler Center at the Weatherhead School of Business has recently published an article on the practice of self-reflection as a means of promoting reflection within an organization. The intention is to support discussion and initiatives for promoting change in the way organizations treat employees in order to create flourishing businesses

LWD is pleased to be able to promote this initiative by summarizing a recent item from The Fowler Center:

The Fowler Center at the Weatherhead School of Business has recently published an article on the practice of self-reflection and promoting reflection within an organization. The intention is to support discussion and initiatives for promoting change in the way organizations treat employees in order to create flourishing businesses

The article, to appear in this summer’s issue of The Journal of Corporate Citizenship,is a prelude to a forthcoming book titled The Flourishing Enterprise: Connecting Sustainability and Spirituality. It will be the final product of the Fellows’ research and careful thought on “the journey to a greater sense of connectedness” as central to business success.

The idea is that if individuals can find and create spiritual contentment in their organization, they can enrich their whole organization and help others flourish as well. The journey to a flourishing organization begins with the self. The Fellows argue that since knowledge workers’ productivity is deeply influenced by the workers’ inner states, cultivating optimal internal states becomes the responsibility of management.

Appreciative Inquiry is an excellent tool to cultivate reflection on the best of what is and to co-create the best of what could be. Created at the Weatherhead School [Case Western University] Appreciative Inquiry is a strength-based approach to whole systems change and is an excellent tool for creating large systemic change.

The Fowler Center hopes that its work will proliferate and create deep meaningful conversations about ways to transform businesses into agents of world benefit–where flourishing individuals create flourishing organizations that lead to a flourishing world.


Diana Gould, Mrs Thatcher and the sinking of the Belgrado

April 9, 2013


The life and achievements of Mrs Thatcher are being re-examined in the minutest detail. One piece of unfinished business is the ultimate fate of the Falkland Islands over which she went into battle

News of the death of Margaret Thatcher [8th April 2013] confirmed her iconic status, and the aptness of the title of the recent film about her The Iron Lady. The posthumous comments of those who knew her brought back my own fragmented memories. These include her substantial political achievements from humble origins; her wresting of power to become a formidable global figure noted for her robustness and straight speaking; her contribution addressing economic weaknesses (‘the British disease’) at home, her tireless efforts fighting to retain the status of her country abroad, and her deep suspicions over Europe’s regional direction of change.

A leader for our times?

Even today, I find my executive students mostly admiring of her no-nonsense confrontational leadership style. Admiration seems to grow, the further you go from the UK. Japan, China [with muted reservations in Hong Kong], India, and The United States would provide examples of different cultures recognizing her unique leadership characteristics.

“Where there is discord…”

Her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street has been replayed many times in the last twenty four hours. It was allowed to speak for itself. Her choice of quotation from St Francis seemed as inappropriate from her as it might have been appropriate from the New Pope: “Where there is discord let there be harmony…” For me, the speech captures a shadow-side of Mrs Thatcher and her mask of command, and an insensitivity to the ironic. At her death she remained a deeply divisive figure in the UK.

Missing in dispatches

In nearly one thousand posts mostly on leadership issues, I have hardly written about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. From time to time I collected notes intending to assemble them into a broader examination. Here is one from an article in The Independent

It was 1983 and the run-up to the general election. In the Nationwide studio at BBC TV Centre, Sue Lawley was hosting a live phone-in with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was confidently looking forward to a second term of office for the Conservatives.

Then Diana Gould, a 58-year-old geography teacher from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, came on the air. Her disembodied voice asked: “Mrs Thatcher, why, when the Belgrano, the Argentinian battleship, was outside the exclusion zone and actually sailing away from the Falklands, why did you give the orders to sink it?”

Thatcher replied: “But it was not sailing away from the Falklands. It was in an area which was a danger to our ships.”

Revealing a geography teacher’s precision, Gould persisted. “It was on a bearing of 280 and it was already west of the Falklands, so I cannot see how you can say it was not sailing away from the Falklands.

“When it was sunk,” said Thatcher, “It was a danger to our ships.”

“No,” said Gould firmly, “You just said at the beginning of your answer that it was not sailing away from the Falklands, and I am asking you to correct that statement.”

Rattled, Thatcher blustered about the exclusion zone, but Gould came back with the “north of West” bearing and would not let it drop until Gould was faded out. She became an overnight heroine: the woman who stood up to Thatcher, virtually accusing her of a war crime.

Thatcher was furious, and relations between government and the BBC were soured through the 1980s.


Unsung Melodies: This week’s events I didn’t write about

January 24, 2013

Apps for apesThis week I would have liked to have blogged about Barack Obama’s second inauguration; David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on Europe; blacklisting of employees; Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey; and iPads for Apes

President Obama’s inauguration

The UK, like the rest of the world, followed the inauguration. An estimated 40 million people watched [see the figures for Armstrong and Whitney, below]. A video of the 18 minute speech is available.

Initial reactions seem to be that the president will take steps to counter what he sees as obstruction to his policies by political opponents in the Senate. The speech signals this intention specifically on actions to preserve the environment, supporting human rights, and strengthening gun controls.

Prime Minster David Cameron’s European Speech

Meanwhile, over in Europe, Prime Minister Cameron makes what is considered his most committing political speech of his term in office. [23rd January 2012] His party’s stance on Europe will be built around a pre-election pledge for a post-election “in or out” referendum on membership of the European Community. The strategy appears to be a move to counter the rise of the anti-Europe UKIP party in the polls, and as a means of reducing trouble with his own anti-Europe MPs. He plans to renegotiate before the next general election [in 2015] to obtain changes in the EC and its arrangements with the UK. If successful. these will permit him to support a “stay in” vote in the subsequent referendum. A video of this speech is also available [via the BBC website]

Blacklisting of employees in the UK

This story is one which I believe will recur over the next few months, as a matter of corporate social responsibilities. Attention has been drawn to bullying and possibly illegal means through which organizations prevent employees from speaking out concerning their working conditions. The sanctions include the blacklisting of uncooperative employees from future employment. The examples suggest the practice has been widespread in some industries such as construction where part-time and supply work is common.

Lance and Oprah

The hero to zero story of Lance Armstrong played out as a full-blown televised confessional between Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey. It was watched by 28 million people worldwide. The charismatic figure considered the greatest cyclist of his generation once acquired cult status. Eventually he was revealed as a drug cheat who dragged his sport into disrepute. I like to describe leadership in terms of dilemmas. In chess terms, Armstrong moved not because he could or because he wanted to, but because he was forced to by a build up of stories against him.

Apps for Apes

Here’s a story which is fun and with animal rights implications. Apes like iPads. (Don’t we all?). The story was widely reported

The ‘Apps for Apes’ project came into being [in a Milwaukee zoo] because orangutans need constant stimulation – otherwise they become bored or depressed. Previous experiments have proved that the animals have an innate ability to use touchscreens.

‘The original idea came literally when Steve Jobs gave his opening presentation introducing the iPad,’ said conservationist Richard Zimmerman.

MBA student note

You may find a story for a leadership blog within these five items. Try to focus on a specific theme, and bring out its leadership implications around a critical incident.


Fiscal Cliffs and Monty Python Politics

December 31, 2012

always look zazzleIt may not add to anyone’s good humour, if I conclude LWD blogs for 2012 with thoughts from a book entitled “It’s Even Worse than it Looks”

Don’t end the year downbeat, I promised myself. It’s a new dawn. And all that stuff. I turned to the book I have been reading “It’s even worse than it looks” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.

These gentlemen did not offer me much cheer. Their earlier work had the uplifting title The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track. Their main thesis in both books is that the American Political System is in a near-terminal mess. The brilliant system of checks and balances to preserve individual freedoms has become a means of arriving at lose/lose decisions for the people of America and even for politicians struggling to wrest personal or party gains regardless of longer term consequences.

Brinkmanship?

Mann and Ornstein are political theorists with powerful access to the corridors of power in Washington. It’s ’Even Worse than it Looks” examines the January 2011 congressional struggle which attempted to reach an agreement to deal with the US debt. The brinkmanship revealed the two factors which are believed by the authors to lie at the heart of the matter: Increasingly adversarial stances between democratic and republican politicians, and a system which results in blocking of the proposals by the majority party. Such an argument has a disturbing ring of truth in 2011, and is even predictive of what seems to be arriving in January 2012, now dressed up in terms of a metaphoric Fiscal Cliff.

Another crisis?

If this is not a crisis for the American economy what is it? One possibility is that we are witnessing another outbreak of limited leadership vision If so, it has not gone unnoticed by the electorate. As the 2011 infighting continued, a poll cited by Mann and Ornstein showed confidence in politicians had slumped to an all-time low of 9%.

In other words, there is too much posturing posing as leadership. There are still plenty of folk out there convinced that “It’s all their fault”, but that sort of conviction is part of the problem. Mann and Ornstein suggest remedies including increasing the proportion of the electorate participating in politics at the most basic level through voting. They also would address gerrymandering of various kinds, and favour some form of proportional representation. The proposals seem more tentative that those for getting America back on track (their earlier book).

Always look on the bright side

The debate will continue. Some may take comfort in the view that it is all Mickey Mouse politics which will eventually be resolved as damaged global economies gradually become less turbulent. In the meanwhile, in the gloriously ironic strains of a tune and words from Monty Python, we might as well Always look on the bright side of life, de dum, de dum, de dumpty dum, de dum.

And a happy new year to you all out there.

2013 Postscript

The negotiations went according to plan, if you believe the insider account from Politico.


Dilemmas of leadership at the NHS

September 2, 2012

Leaders in the UK’s National Health Service are facing a new (but curiously old) set of challenges, as another Government initiative is introduced to set up international profit-making hospital services

Tudor Rickards & Susan Moger

Officials from the Department of Health and UK Trade and Industry will launch the joint scheme this autumn, [2012] which will aim to build links between hospitals wishing to expand, and foreign governments which want access to British health services.

Hospitals including Great Ormond Street, the Royal Marsden and Guy’s and St Thomas’ could create new branches. The proposal draws on initiatives occurring in America, including Baltimore’s John Hopkins, Hospital.

Health Minister Anne Milton is quoted as saying:

“This is good news for NHS patients who will get better services at their local hospital as a result of the work the NHS is doing abroad and the extra investment that will generate. This is also good news for the economy, which will benefit from the extra jobs and revenue created by our highly successful life sciences industries as they trade more across the globe.

The NHS has a world-class reputation, and this exciting development will make the most of that to deliver real benefits for both patients and taxpayers”.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement [21st August, 2012] attracted criticisms

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said:

“The guiding principle of the NHS must be to ensure that outcomes and care for patients come before profits. At a time of huge upheaval in the health service, when waiting times are rising and trusts are being asked to make £20 billion of efficiency savings, this is another concerning distraction. The priority of the Government, hospital trusts and clinicians should be NHS patients.”

New and curiously old dilemmas

The dilemmas for NHS leaders are in some ways new, for example in the sense that the implementation of such a scheme will involve addressing problems of untested technologies impacting on clinical, informational, and managerial actions.

In other ways the dilemmas are curiously old. There have been a series of ‘revolutions’ announced by successive Governments to reform, update, transform, the NHS. The shocks and repeated initiatives led one distinguished commentator, Professor Andrew Pettigrew, to refer to the process as one of “churning not changing”.

It would hardly be surprising if some hospital leaders will see the plan as a further temporary burden to be shouldered, or one further storm to be weathered, rather than an opportunity to be seized.

Investment from private patient profits

A deeper analysis can be found in The Independent. The proposed initiative attempts to anticipate some of the dilemmas. Investment will be allowed only if drawn from income received from private patients; and any profits made abroad would be channelled back to the UK.

Areas of the world identified as key to the success of the project include the Gulf, where British medical brands already have high recognition, and China, Brazil, Libya and India.

The marketing of the NHS ‘brand’

Media comment is describing and evaluating the intiative as an attempt to market the MBS brand. It has echoes of marketing UK plc. The enthusiasm for business school language is not without dangers. Effective implementation of innovation may require a strtegic evaluation of what the ‘brand’ will look like in th future.

An example from a related service sector is that of the universities who are discovering the challenges of establishing outposts in various international locations. The learning curve is steep and competition ferocious. The most successful UK example is the Open University, and that has one unique advantage. Its knowhow (brand?) is precisely of a kind which makes such international ventures attractive to its undergraduate students.

Earlier LWD posts of interest

Health policy

Creative leadership

Distributed leadership


Is Gina Rinehart Australia’s next Rupert Murdoch?

June 19, 2012

Australian officials have expressed concern that billionaire Gina Rinehart’s increased stake in Fairfax Media may compromise the organisation’s independence

According to the BBC:

Australian officials have expressed concern that billionaire Gina Rinehart’s increased stake in Fairfax Media may compromise its independence.

The mining magnate, who now has an 18.67% stake, has asked for three board seats and the right to make editorial decisions. Ms Rinehart, who oversees an iron-ore prospecting empire, is a vocal opponent of the government’s mining and carbon tax plans.

Gina Reinhart, recently labelled the world’s richest woman, is the heiress to an iron-ore prospecting empire.

Her current plans appear to involve acquiring three seats on the board of Fairfax Media, and the right to get involved in hiring and firing employees.

Unlike Rupert Murdoch, this is a tycoon who is intent on staying on her home turf in building her business empire. This may explain why she has largely avoided global attention for her leadership activities.

The Australian government may be following the Leveson inquiry into Media Government relations with more than a passing interest.

Succession planning

There seems little likelihood of smooth succession planning for the 58 year old business woman. She is locked in a bitter dispute with her siblings over alleged involvement with their trust hunds.

Image

Image is from the appeal by Fairfax Newspapers for Gina Rinehart to declare support for editorial independence

To be continued


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