Sitting comfortably in the boss's chair

For some people, the top job just fits pretty easily. City Editor Eric Barkas found that out in the first interview given by Harriet Green.

IT'S easy to write about Harriet Green because she's so comfortable with herself and other people.

When she became chief executive, in April, of the Leeds-based electronic components distributor, Premier Farnell, she set and met the target of meeting 85 per cent of the workforce within six weeks.

Premier employs some 5,000 people at almost 100 locations in 22 countries.

Okay, it wasn't face to face with everybody. There were management meetings.

But the guts of it was a long series of employee meetings – sometimes 12 or 13 in a day.

"I go to their place of work, I talk for about 12 or 15 minutes, then I ask for questions," Ms Green says.

On her first day, April 3, she sent out a few simple questions to every employee: What do they consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of the company? What should management do, or not do? Then came the meetings.

"I wanted to get out there in front of people," she says.

More than 1,000 replied to the questions. The same process was gone through with Premier's 4,000 franchised suppliers.

When you meet Ms Green, 44, you get the feeling that consultation is not something picked out of a book on best management. It's felt.

Bright, personable and energetic are the easy adjectives to apply. We were due to talk for an hour but kept going for almost two. It was only when we were 20 minutes into the meeting that I dragged the subject from me to her.

So, Harriet Green, how do you get through so much work so quickly?

I can say, though she won't: "I don't sleep much and I have a short commute to work."

Ms Green can get by on a maximum four or five hours' sleep a day.

"I'm extremely hyper. I'm not a good sleeper," she says.

Commuting from her home in Oxford to Premier's London office in Mayfair takes about an hour at the birdsong time she does it.

That's nothing to the 26 hours she used to spend commuting weekly from Oxford to her previous job in Hong Kong as the boss of the Asia Pacific region for the US group, Arrow Electronics.

Premier Farnell is a company with a history: from Wetherby beginnings to the troubled merger with Premier Industrial of the US, to the tenure as chief executive of John Hirst, to Ms Green.

She has experience of multi-national businesses and is more than familiar with Asia, which the company sees as a big opportunity.

Ms Green says: "I'm very driven. I think this business has so many opportunities to do better."

As a distributor, Premier is a middleman. Ms Green says: "I like distribution. I do like the idea of delivering great service with a team of people.

"It suits my personality to be in that middle space... It involves infrastructure but it also involves great marketing.

"I like to be the recipient of great service. If I don't get it, I write, I complain."

Premier prides itself on delivering 99.6 per cent of the orders it receives from some two million customers on the same day of the order.

Ms Green was brought up in Shipton Oliffe in Gloucestershire and went to school near Cheltenham before going to London University to study medieval history.

The thing about medieval history, she says, is that there is little work to crib from. You have to go to original sources and work it out for yourself.

"I'm a big reader. Since I was a little girl I've read and read and read. I've always been quite good at distilling things from what I read.

"I'm a two-or-three-books-a-week person and have been for much of my life. My relationship with reading is the same as my relationship with food. I'd rather eat nothing or read nothing than eat or read crap."

Ms Green's father died from a brain tumour when she was 14. She and two siblings were brought up by her mother.

She had three jobs in her early teens: mucking out at the local stables, cycling 40 minutes to get to the local newsagents by 5am to sort out papers and do accounts, and waitressing at the pub. From the age of 12, she brought in 60 a week for the family.

After her globe-trotting, she has settled down with her husband, Graham Clarkson, who runs his own project management business. They met in 2000.

She has inherited two teenagers: George, 19, who is studying chemistry at Southampton, and Gemma, 16, who has just done GCSEs.

Where does all this leave Premier Farnell? There's a strategic review that should be reported sometime in the autumn.

Ms Green talks about how to change and improve performance. "I felt, and still feel, there are opportunities in terms of new customers, new markets, new regions and new products."

She's drafted in external expertise from Harvard in IT and others who are adept at the supply chain.

Since some 30 per cent of Premier's sales are now driven by e-commerce, she is tapping into web experts.

eric.barkas@ypn.co.uk

"It suits my personality to be in that middle space... It involves infrastructure but it also involves great marketing. I like to be the recipient of great service. If I don't get it, I write, I complain."

Harriet Green

Title: Chief executive of Premier Farnell.

Salary: 450,000.

First jobs: Mucking out local stables, working in newsagents and pub.

Favourite book: So many. Solzhenitsyn's August 1914, Kazuo Ishiguro's Artist of the Floating World, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams will do for now.

Favourite films: Horseman on the Roof, Dr Zhivago, Blue Velvet.

Favourite music: Teenage Kicks, The Undertones, Shostakovich's violin concertos.