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Female CEOs: Business turnaround extraordinaires?

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In a Guardian interview, he explains that “they haven’t done the research, they don’t know where to go for the right funding … it’s rarely one thing. It’s about knowing more than the next guy or girl and performing better, and the only way you can do that is through knowledge. It’s basic stuff but we don’t do it.”

Here’s another shocking statistic: at the end of 2013 only 12.7 per cent of board appointments in the world were comprised of women.

But maybe female power is exactly what we need? According to Professor Susan Vinnicombe of the Cranfield University School of Management, who compiles the annual ‘Female FTSE Board Report’, women flourish in ‘turnaround’ situations, where a company is in urgent need of an overhaul and ‘required tough discipline’.

“We don’t know whether women choose these jobs, or whether men shy away from them because they are seen as high risk,” she says. “They tend to have much broader experience, perhaps because they move companies if they are passed over for promotions. This means they bring fresher ideas.”

According to the Daily Mail’s Ruth Sunderland, “it is possible, as women have to surmount more obstacles to reach the top, that only the most brilliant become CEOs, which could be a reason to believe they will outperform when they get there.”

When looking at figures such as Harriet Green and Angela Ahrendts, it’s hard to disagree.

For example, Harriet Green, who took over Thomas Cook on the brink of collapse in 2011 when it was forced to appeal to lenders for a bail-out.

She famously got the job after cold-calling the chairman and telling him that she was the right person for the job.

When she was appointed in 2012, the travel business was suffering from a fall in tourism due to the global recession. There was also the unrest in the Middle East, which left Thomas Cook with debts of more than £1bn.

Green immediately emailed all her staff, asking them to share “everything you think and feel about what we need to do in this company”.

“Thomas Cook was quite unwell and so… I moderated my style and approach,” she says. “I was much less edgy, much less aggressive. I was still very focused on time and the issues, but [at the same time] creating this environment where people could believe.”

In the end, her turnaround plan was quite simple: “managing our cash better and reducing cost”.

In 2013 the company underwent a major £1.6bn refinancing to remove a “debt wall” that was looming in 2015. Green also went about stripping out costs and selling off non-core assets.

She has now boosted share prices by 950 per cent.

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