London Briefing: former Thomas Cook chief Harriet Green awaits £10m bonus
Globetrotting executive tweets as anger mounts over deaths of children in Corfu
Former Thomas Cook chief executive Harriet Green: due to collect a £10 million-plus bonus when her gardening leave comes to an end next month. Photograph: RLM Finsbury/PA Wire
Harriet Green, the former chief executive of Thomas Cook, has clearly been enjoying her gardening leave from the travel firm, which she quit abruptly last November after just over two years in charge.
A prolific tweeter, Green has charted her travels around the world in the months since she gave up her job, where she remains on the payroll until June. There have been trips to New York, Barcelona, to Thailand and the French Alps.
Last week, as anger mounted over the company’s inept handling of the deaths of two children at a hotel in Corfu nine years ago, Green was tweeting pictures from the Chelsea Flower Show and enjoying a canal boat break over the bank holiday weekend.
Her successor, Peter Fankhauser, had a very different week, as he finally met the grieving parents of Bobby and Christi Shepherd who died on holiday when they were overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler.
At an inquest into the deaths of the children earlier this month, the new Thomas Cook boss had refused to issue an apology, saying that while he was very sorry, “there’s no need to apologise because there was no wrongdoing by Thomas Cook”.
Last week, as the travel firm came under growing criticism for its handling of the affair, he finally met the Shepherds, and admitted that the company had made a number of mistakes in the way it handled the incident and its aftermath.
Some of those mistakes were made on Green’s watch. During her time in charge of Thomas Cook, the company tried to have the inquest scrapped, and the Shepherds also say that she refused to meet with them. It was also during her time that Thomas Cook pursued its claim for compensation for the deaths, something that has only recently come to light.
Anger over the affair, which has seen the website Mumsnet pull Thomas Cook adverts amid calls for a wider consumer boycott, is now being targeted at Green. She is due to collect a £10 million-plus bonus when her gardening leav comes to an end and both she and the company are coming under pressure to scrap the award of seven million shares or to donate it to children’s charities.
Thomas Cook has made a £1.5 million donation to the charity Unicef, but that has done little to quell the anger over its behaviour, as it emerged the company had been paid £3 million in compensation for the children’s deaths in 2013 – 10 times the figure received by the parents.
Green has maintained a Twitter silence on the tragedy but a spokesman has stressed that the payout was “for her ability to turn around a failing company, not on the handling of a legal process and an inquest in which she had no direct involvement”.
The business lobby group, the Institute of Directors, joined the chorus of criticism of the group this week. Its director general, Simon Walker, said it had behaved in “an appalling way” and he highlighted the fact that the company failed to reveal it had received compensation.
He said that when a company is under fire, its lawyers often urge silence. But, he said, “the court of public opinion” does not run on the basis of “legal niceties”.
“Those of us who champion business need to be critical when companies mess up. The test of many a backroom decision is: how would this look on the front page of the Sun? Warren Buffett said corporate reputation may take 20 years to build, but can be destroyed in hours. There are few more egregious examples.”
The Thomas Cook remuneration committee will review Green’s bonus before it is awarded next month. Given the appalling publicity the company’s behaviour has generated, will it decide that the former chief executive must take her share of the blame and give up all or part of her multi-million pound payout? Or will the globetrotting Green, who has already been paid around £500,000 for her six months of gardening leave, do the decent thing and direct her bonus to a more worthy cause?
Fiona Walsh is business editor of theguardian.com