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Thomas Cook names industry outsider as CEO
LONDON (Reuters) - Debt-laden tour operator Thomas Cook (TCG.L) has named travel industry outsider Harriet Green from British electrical components distributor Premier Farnell (PFL.L) as chief executive to help turn it around.
Green, CEO of the FTSE 250 group since 2006 during which period she built its e-commerce operation, will succeed interim Thomas Cook chief executive Sam Weihagen at the end of July.
Her challenge is to rebuild a 171-year-old travel company which has been searching for a CEO since last August after dire trading that has led it to three profit warnings in the past 18 months and a 2010/11 loss of 398 million pounds ($625 million).
Chairman Frank Meysman told Reuters that Harriet "knows how to run and turn around a business, while putting technological developments at the forefront".
He shrugged off her lack of travel industry experience, saying she would bring a new perspective.
Stephen Anness, a fund manager at Invesco, Thomas Cook's largest shareholder with a 10.15 percent stake, said Green was a great hire.
"She brings with her experience of business turnaround and operational focus. This in combination with the travel experience already in Thomas Cook should allow the business to take the steps required to realise significant shareholder value."
Thomas Cook, hit by the civil unrest in North Africa last year, has seen the economic downturn in Britain hurt bookings.
Earlier this month, it sold its Indian business and agreed to sell and lease back 17 aircraft, providing around 275 million pounds to ease pressure on the company after its first-half loss widened.
Also this month, it said former Kwik-Fit finance boss Michael Healy would take over as chief financial officer from Paul Hollingworth, who will step down after helping secure a three-year funding deal worth $2.2 billion - its third refinancing in a year.
"We are ready for take off now. Things have stabilised over the last six months and we have a platform to continue to build on now," Meysman said.
Thomas Cook shares, which have shed around 90 percent of their value in the past year, were up 11 percent at 20.25 pence by 1155 GMT, valuing the group at around 175 million pounds.
Green, 50, who received an OBE for services to industry two years ago and is a member of Prime Minister David Cameron's Government Business Advisory Group, will join Thomas Cook on July 30 at which time Weihagen will step down as CEO but remain with the company until September 30, its financial year-end, to help with the transition.
Peel Hunt analyst Nick Batram said it was a bold move to hire someone from outside the travel industry. "Given Thomas Cook's recent issues it may be an advantage to have someone fresh to the travel business coming in who will question things that have been taken for granted by industry people."
A non-executive director of British defence group BAE Systems (BAES.L) and U.S. electronics firm Emerson, Green has spent her career in the electronics component industry, joining Premier Farnell from U.S. firm Arrow Electronics (ARW.N).
During her time at Premier Farnell, she pushed the company into high growth markets such as China, India and Eastern Europe, while her drive on e-commerce means it now accounts for over half of group sales.
Premier Farnell has endured a testing time of late, however, with slowing industrial markets leading to a profit warning last July and full-year figures coming in below expectations.
The company's chief operating officer, Laurence Bain, will succeed Green in June.
($1 = 0.6363 pound)
(Editing by Dan Lalor)
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