Harriet Green: Investors treated to a share of the chief's good karma

A Day in the Life: Harriet Green starts the day with a 4am yoga session, which seems to be working wonders for her firm, Premier Farnell
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The Independent Online


"If you haven't got 45 minutes in a day to do yoga or run or whatever you want, you become a slave, you're just not your own person any more," says Harriet Green, Premier Farnell's chief executive. And with this aim in mind she gets up at 4am, with the intention of completing a yoga routine that she doesevery day.

Even if it is impossible in the morning, due to travelling for example, it will be somewhere in her schedule. "I'm quite a driven, hyper sort of creature, but I do something every day that is important to me, and that is yoga. It is much better for me to do it at the start of the day and so I get up at 4am. I always have done," she says. "It gets your whole body flowing and moving and calmed and stretched in the appropriate way. I don't achieve high levels of meditative states, I never have, but I do get good karma and I start the day with good yoga."

This is followed by 25 minutes of "think time" she gets by walking the mile and a half from her home in Oxford to the train.

"One of the big problems today is that we are so full of gadgetry and connection. Think time is when there isn't a phone, and there isn't a Blackberry, so I walk to the station. I have a 30-litre rucksack that is nearly as big as I am, so I can take all my stuff, my pc, my water bottle, my glasses, a spare top. When you've got it all in it takes 30 litres, believe me."


Ms Green has arrived at work, although the price of the journey rankles a bit: "I was on Radio 4, The Bottom Line with Evan Davies, the other day and they had one of the leaders of the train companies who were saying what great value it was to travel on the train, and I thought: 'If they'd ever travelled on the blinking train'..."

After running through her diary, she plunges into the connected world, starting the day with one of her regional presidents, Salman Syed, who heads the Asia Pacific region. Premier Farnell's business is the distribution of high-spec electrical components to engineers, and Ms Green has made expanding into "high-growth economies" such as South-east Asia and eastern Europe a priority.

"We're reviewing the Indian acquisition that we made at the beginning of January and Salman is also presenting to the board on our further penetration into Asia, which countries, whether by acquisition or organic growth. We also now have two global technology centres, one in India and one in China, where we have engineers who provide our customers with really good technical support."

One of those centres is in Chengdu, which has been badly affected by the recent earthquake in China. "We were quite worried, which is why we were focused on that. Fortunately all our people were ok, which is the most important thing. In fact, and it's typical of Chinese resourcefulness – they were able to work at home and, of course, we have another centre in Bangalore, which was able to take up some of the slack."


Ms Green now meets up with Mark Whiteling, to put the finishing touches to the company's results presentation, which was on Thursday and was responsible for the company posting the second biggest share price gain among Britain's 350 biggest companies on the day. "We discuss the analysts' presentation, which of the investors we are going to meet when, how that fits in with our top 10 shareholders.

"Planning is so important in the job of the ceo and I have a great folder with everything I need, and before we go ahead with the presentation we share it with all our advisers to get feedback. That is really important. I'm quite a positive person and I want to hear if I'm being too positive. Mark's a bit of a dour New Zealander and he needs to hear if he is being too dour," she laughs.

"I also need to be sure our shareholders are getting what they want. Good communication stands you in good stead. The preparation is crucial." Quite. 10am

Ms Green is now in the cab, making phone calls ahead of a meeting with one of her investors.

"I spend about 30 per cent of my time with existing investors, or hopefully new investors. I usually do a call in the cab and this time it is about a very big customer programme with all the universities in the UK. We are a very big provider to them, with the students, etc, and we have a big presentation and video conference the next day, so I'm discussing that. If 30 per cent of my time is with investors, I try to ensure that a good 30 per cent of my time is with the customer, our suppliers and employees. We are a distributor, so each of those communities is pretty key."

When the call is complete she spends an hour with the potential investor, giving a presentation in the hope that they will buy.

She moves on to the company's new "Innovation Lab".

"As we are transforming the business, more web, more community, we have a dedicated team of people whose brief is to advance some of these really innovative ideas, personalisation, customisation."

She says the lab is full of "very bright, usually young, people," and, on this job at least, "I'm not the CEO. I'm a team member, I get to have an input, but that's all. I'm not very creative myself, but this helps me get to know the team and let them know that innovation is important."

She will snatch a sandwich here, if her PA's instructions have been obeyed, before heading back to the office.


Back in the office, Ms Green first spends an hour in a regular accounts meeting before catching up with Linda Chui, the new head of Asia Pacific finance, in her office. She then holds a video conference with the company's North American team to discuss the internet, again.

The company has discovered a problem. "For some reason in North America a lot of people were exiting the [internet purchasing] cart at a particular set of pages, and we had put in some new marketing and messaging on the site which Asian and European engineers loved and gave them lots of data about what they had done in the past, but American engineers didn't like it. We took it off and noticed an immediate result."

Ms Green then takes time out to write her blog – which goes on the company's intranet three times a week and features what she describes as "a stream of consciousness" from the boss.

"I've done this for the last five years. I was one of the first CEO bloggers. One of the characteristics of Generation Y-ers is that they are very different to those of us over 30, their demands of technology, their view of the workplace, how they speak with colleagues. I get about 60 'ask- Harriet's' a day out of this.It's very popular with our staff," she insists.


UPS, a partner of Premier Farnell, wants Ms Green to be a keynote speaker at a forthcoming conference (Mikhail Gorbachev is also attending, in Barcelona, and in the world of distribution it's quite a big deal). The event covers the supply chain, and Ms Green needs to review with UPS what she is going to say.

She will finally head for home at around 6pm. Before she turns in at 9.30pm, it is her turn to cook tonight. Ms Green, her husband and her generation-Y daughter, Gemma, take turns (son George is at university). "Gemma is a significantly better cook than I am. I'm the worst of the three of them," she laments. "Gemma's doing her AS levels and I take an active role in her revision. I 'CEO' her occasionally. She hates it when I do that."

The CV

Name: Harriet Green

Age: 45

Marital status: Married with two children

Education: BA in medieval history, London University; Northleach Grammar School, Cheltenham


2006-present President and chief executive officer of Premier Farnell

2002-2006: President, Asia Pacific, for Arrow Electronics

2002-2004: Head of worldwide marketing for Arrow Electronics in New York

1994-2002: Various roles for Arrow Electronics around the world, culminating in the appointment as head of global strategy and new business development

1985-1994: Managing director, the Macro Group, part of Diploma plc