How Passion4Hospitality can shape your career

Here’s a little feel-good story worth sharing about a Management Graduate with a promising future in the world of hospitality. We finally said Hello at SkillsLondon when we both represented


in our roles as Springboard Ambassadors 

(see picture)

Full Article Here:

"Participating in the Institute of Hospitality's P4H Student Debating Competition and Careers Forum led to Simrian Kaur finding a job that she really loves.
Having worked all through university, Simrian had a choice of more than one graduate position…"

Simrian Kaur and Thomas Kilroy: Meeting at the P4H debate led to an exciting new job opportunity...

If you are a student or (or even a lecturer) in the field of Hospitality, I can only urge you to get a team signed up. This is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your leadership potential… and who knows what doors you might open?

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Five great nuggets of advice to kickstart your career.

Last week I joined a number of Oxford Brookes University alumni to share our career experiences with an audience of management graduate students. All of my co-panellists spoke eloquently about their transition from study to employment and the myriad of opportunities they encountered along the way. 

In doing so, each had a little nugget or two of advice to offer the students setting out on their career paths of the future. Here are five worth considering:

1) Find the job you would do for free and build a career around it. 
I wrote a broader post about how to figure this out here. Starting out I just wanted to be a chef, but that lead to patisserie, then to restaurants, then to cooking demonstrations and TV, then consultancy, then management, then marketing, then social media and here we are. Back to you. Although the scenery may have changed, my vehicle was always hospitality and it was fueled by my desire to create great guest experiences. And guess what? I do it at home for free when we throw a dinner party.

2) Travel, learn a language and immerse yourself in other cultures.
Immerse yourself in other cultures
Try and do this while you are young and independent, because later in your career you will be swayed by other commitments which will talk you out of it. And why is this experience so important? At some stage you will be required to lead a team and understanding how we communicate will be fundamental in getting the best from your team. As Peter Drucker once said "Culture eats strategy for breakfast". You can put all the plans you like in place, but if the culture of your team, company or customers are not aligned with that plan, then you are setting yourself up for failure. Talking of which..

3) Embrace failure, learn from it and move on quickly.
We all have setbacks in our lives, but it is how we react and deal with them that sets us apart. If you can demonstrate your ability to bounce back from failure, you will show up on the radar of senior management or investors. Many, if not all of the greatest business leaders have been through some form of life changing setback which made them stronger and more measured as a result. Did you know Richard Branson has dyslexia? There's a fascinating article about some famous adversities here.

4) Be yourself, but bring your 'A' game.
Nobody is as well reahearsed at being unique as you are. If you're still trying to figure out certain aspects of who you want to be, don't worry. Most people are. Try and work with people you respect, learn about people you admire and don't be afraid to emulate their mannerisms, behaviours and thinking. However at some point you have to arrive at the person YOU ARE. When that day comes, you will have gained a huge advantage on many of your colleagues and competitors. (Bonus tip: also don't forget you can learn from the people you dislike about the kind of person you DON'T want to be. An equally important distinction.) As for your 'A' game - that simply means work hard, play hard. Make sure however that you know the distinction, because confusing the two is where most of the energy will be sucked out of your career on that ladder to success.

5) Don't underestimate loyalty, respect and determination.
These should be qualities you display and qualities you seek out in the people you work with. Sometimes you are faced with making a decision where you might appear to be letting someone down (leaving a job, re-locating, turning down a promotion etc). But if the overriding verdict was out of loyalty or respect for someone else, or as part of your determination to grow as a person or leader, then the other party will respect the outcome. A simple question to evaluate this thought process is to ask yourself: Is this the best I can do? Business leaders know they can teach tasks, duties and processes, but they can't 'teach' integrity. That comes built in as part of your character. Bring that as part of your 'A' Game and the road will rise to meet your journey.

These are just five. If you have any other qualities, characteristics or nuggets of advice to offer someone starting out in their career, please take a minute to write a small comment below. Who knows how inspirational that might be to someone.

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A simple question to help you find your dream job.

Last week I put a simple question to an audience of 150 management graduates at Oxford Brookes University during their annual 'Focus on Careers' eventFor me, it is one of the most powerful ways to evaluate your career and life goals, and since the answer constantly changes as our dreams and aspirations do, it is worth revisiting every now and then whether you are starting out, stuck in a rut or responding to changes of circumstance.

"If you couldn't believe you were being paid to do a job - a job you loved doing so much you would do it for free - what job would that be?"

This conundrum was first put to me a couple of years ago by BaxterStorey's Director of Sales, Simon Esner, who was my business mentor at the time. It was a proud moment to see Simon being crowned UK Sales Director of the Year in the National Sales Awards last week, so for me he embodies the very notion of what it means to have that elusive 'dream job'.

The question caught me off-guard at the time and consequently my answer to him was not a wholly satisfactory one, but not for the reasons you might think. The truth is I've had all of those jobs. The so-called dream job has been ticked off my list so many times, it's ridiculous. In any case, it was for this reason I had sought out his advice in the first place. Over the last three years I have been on a personal journey of introspection to find that elusive next one - the one job I'd do for free if money was no object! - and I needed his help in uncovering what it might be.

Of course you might be wondering why so many, if each one was such a so-called dream job. The thing I've learned about landing a dream job is that it's the journey to get there that makes it special, not the destination. Every time I felt I had 'arrived' (perhaps even getting slightly too comfortable in the role), I knew it was time to dream up another and go chase that. 

As I looked out across my audience, I couldn't help but notice the sheer abundance of potential that illuminated those fresh-faced management graduates. Each of them no doubt has a compelling idea of what their road to success might look like, but many will face setbacks and disappointments along the way. When (not if) this happens, they will feel the worst possible frustration, but I have found that these situations arise to point us towards new avenues of opportunity. And very often we find ourselves in a far more exciting place than if we'd planned for it.

Networking with some great people during the 'Focus on Careers' event at Oxford Brookes University

So consider again the question: if money was no object, what job would you do to fill your day?

If you think of a compass as showing you true North, then your answer to this simple evaluation will point you toward your true happiness and long term success. I've recently landed my new 'Dream Job' and can't wait to get started.

If you are doing what you feel is your dream job, please share your story in the comments below. If you're still looking, then I wish you every success in finding it and hope you can appreciate and enjoy the journey it takes you on. 

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BaxterStorey's award-winning recipe.

“If you have the choice of one or two companies to work for and BaxterStorey is one of them, go with BaxterStorey as your first job in contract catering. You won’t regret it. Their training and development is unparalleled”
That was the advice offered to me by my friend Stewart four years ago. He worked with me back in the day as a Commis Patissier at the Ritz and was speaking from personal experience of the company. In time a role within Baxterstorey did come up and having followed his advice, I have to say; he was bang on the money. I have not regretted a single minute. 

Over the last few months however, I found myself thinking about what he meant by that training and development that BaxterStorey is so renowned for. In my own case, I have had the most fantastic journey of personal and professional development which culminated in a business project presentation to the board of directors (with Alastair Storey himself only three feet away… Gulp!) that wrapped up our year-long Advanced Management Programme in the Leadership Academy.  

What other signs are there of this training success? Does it show up in other ways that perhaps I am not aware of? Or is my own experience the 'norm', where my commitment to personal development has helped me work out a longer term career plan. Yes, there is the unparalleled revenue growth BaxterStorey has seen, but I wanted to look deeper than that. Does it manifest itself in real skills and leadership excellence rather than just sales-speak?

A couple of months ago, one of our top Baristas, Don Altizo made it into the UK finals of the National Barista Championships. With some serious competition from artisan independent barista conquistadors from all over the country, this was quite a milestone for a Foodservice Caterer of our size. Naturally we were thrilled with that result and I’m sure Don will push harder next year to top that. It is certainly vindication that our Barista Academy run by Tim Sturk is making a real difference.

Then word trickled through that one of our sales team managers, Tim Axe was through to the finals in the UK National Sales Manager of the Year Awards. In front of an audience and panel of judges, he will have to make the pitch of a lifetime if he is to beat off some stiff competition from other industry sectors including media and technology.

In the meantime, the list of finalists in the UK Restaurant Manager of the Year was announced with two, yes TWO, BaxterStorey managers among them; Louise Denton from the English National Opera and Janine Swales, General Manager at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Seeing as there were contestants from one or two of the best known Michelin star properties in the UK, this was quite an achievement in and of itself.

And then there is Hayden. Hayden Groves is an Executive Chef based in London and for the last three years has come soooooo close to winning the National Chef of the Year, it’s not even funny. A case study in tenacity, Hayden’s Twitter feed is peppered with insanely early starts, late trips home and a dedication to long distance cycling that borders on psychotic. Which is why it came as no surprise (to me, at least) that he had once again put himself through to the finals this year since he has proven himself more than capable of competing at that level.

With bated breath we settled in to await the outcomes of these various contests where winning can be a life-changing event for the victor. First up was the Restaurant Manager of the Year finals which were held on Monday just gone. This involved a full day of exemplary restaurant skills, food and wine pairing and business presentation acumen in the form of a Dragon’s Den style pitch to a panel of judges. Whew! I shudder to think what kind of pressure they were under. Eventually it was the judges turn to consider their decision and it was a stunning one. Janine Swales, General Manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club had prevailed. To have two contestants participating was testament to the talent we attract at BaxterStorey, but for one of them to be crowned overall winner - an industry first - is proof that Foodservice Catering is no longer the ‘poor relation‘ to the rest of the hospitality industry.

Winner Janine Swales with chief judge Peter Avis
Two days later and our focus turned to Hayden as the National Chef of the Year Finals got under way. He sent a couple of tweets of thanks to wellwishers on the train in and that was the last we heard from him for the day. Time to let his food do the talking. With a judging panel that held a handful or two of Michelin stars between them underscores the pressure these chefs were under to prepare, cook and deliver perfection. Consistency and steely determination were the main ingredients required as the clock ticked away. Plate after plate was sent through to eagerly awaiting tasting spoons while tweet after tweet was shared and dissected. I was riveted at the tension of it all, and that was just in my office at work.

Hayden Groves (ably assisted here by Pastry Chef Phil Skinazi)
We will never know how close it really came, but to say that the judges deliberated for 90 minutes tells me there wasn’t a cigarette paper between victor and vanquished. Eventually someone took the microphone to thank sponsors and volunteers while Twitter exploded with excited impatience as we held our breath for the big announcement. 

"Third place goes to…" not Hayden. Thank goodness. 

"In second place…" oof, again not Hayden. That’s a good thing right? He has to be first. Or what if..what if he's not first? I quickly tweeted "All or Bust!" as I prepared myself for the worst....

"And the 2013 National Chef of the Year is… Hayden Groves of BaxterStorey." A huge collective cheer went up while a torrent of tweets from well wishers came through.

Noel Mahony, our co-CEO, wasn't letting me off the hook with my 'doubting Thomas' tweet of 'All or bust!'. He tweeted:
Top man indeed. And top woman in the form of Janine the previous evening. Within two days we - the collective BaxterStorey we - had scooped the National Chef and National Restaurant Manager of the Year Awards. A stunning double in skills excellence that makes me proud to be associated with such talent and dedication. From Coffee to Restaurant Service to Hospitality benchmarking to Cooking Skills to Sales to Training to HR... we have been up there competing with the best of the best in UK industry. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because someone decided that to be at our best we need to attract talent, nurture talent and promote talent. And that is something quite a few of us want to be a part of. 

Well done Hayden Groves and Janine Swales and Don Altizo. Best of luck to Tim Axe (no pressure buddy!) and to all my colleagues shortlisted in multiple categories of the upcoming Caterer and Hotelkeeper's Foodservice Catey awards due to be announced on Friday night. (I won't tempt fate by naming a few more, but you know who you are!)

And thank you to my friend Stewart for pointing me in the direction of a company that puts such focus on training and development. Despite disappointing news regarding a certain MBA scholarship that eluded me, I guess now I need to see if I can convert some of my own self-development into something exciting in the near future. When a tweet like this comes through from the CEO...

..all I can say is watch this space.

Please feel free to leave a comment. And if you enjoyed reading this you may like other related posts listed below. To receive future posts don't forget to subscribe via email (just enter your email above), or by RSS, or why not follow me on twitter @mykitchensync.

Baby Steps

I've been thinking about baby steps recently. Someone said we must proceed with caution on a new project and used 'baby steps' as the analogy. I wasn't sure that was the right approach as it came from a position of fear and caution. And usually that position leads to inertia. Nothing gets done and we describe our progress as 'baby steps'.

But baby steps are anything but cautious. Let's have a look...

Thinking back to my own daughter as a tiny toddler making that transition from crawling to walking, what struck me was that her baby steps were a perfect analogy for any new project, not because they were cautious, but because they were bold and brave.

Thinking about that, the first thing I noticed was that to make those first steps, a baby will embrace trial and error. This is something most project teams need to get those ideas and initiatives off the ground.

And how many times have you seen a nappy-clad toddler wobble two steps and collapse onto their bum, only to get right back up and try again? Failing small and failing often is a fundamental part of the learning process for that child, as it should be for any project or business team. After all we learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

And once that toddler has grasped the concept of combining balance and motion, guess what? They're off! And there's no stopping them. The number of times we had to run to the stairs or fireplace to ensure her safety was ridiculous, but it demonstrates how babies have no fear once they start to make those first awkward steps. Once they figure out, through mentorship and assistance from us as parents, where the dangers are, they adapt to their environment, continuously improving until success becomes second nature. 

So yes, the project group should take baby steps. But in reality this means:

...Relentless trial and error until success is in sight.
...Embracing a culture of testing & trialling so that failing small but often leads to learning and adapting.
...Bouncing back quickly from any mistakes or missteps.
...Proceeding with courage, rather than fear since fear leads to inertia. 

As you can see, Baby Steps are important, but not for the reasons most people think. 

And remember, even a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a few small steps. Usually brave and usually bold.

Don't wait for National Waiters Day: Get involved now.

“Anyone can cook and anyone can serve, but it takes time to nurture that into a talent.”

These were the words of a very smartly-attired waiter from The Landmark Hotel as he nervously addressed the gathering above a post office in Baker Street at the Continental Chef Supplies showroom for the launch of National Waiters Day. In attendance were a number of guests representing the Hospitality industry, the Springboard UK charity and some of the sponsors who have helped in getting the venture off the ground, not least our own company BaxterStorey since our Chairman Alastair Storey has personally supported the initiative from day one.

The team from The Landmark Hotel who really demonstrated what good looks like in our industry.
The brainchild of Fred Sirieix, General Manager of Galvin at Windows, on the 28th floor of of the Hilton at Park Lane, the event due to take place on Sunday 23rd of June is to raise the profile of all the brilliant Front of House people who work in Hospitality and often get forgotten in our rush to pay homage to the Celebrity Chefs gracing our screens these days. Think about it; without the waiters, the chefs would just oversee buffets!

There are lots of fun events booked all over the country in the lead up to the big day culminating in a hugely entertaining Waiters race around Brunswick Square
Matt Johnson, MD, Bunzl Catering & Hospitality Division

I went along in my capacity as a newly-minted Springboard Ambassador to support my colleagues. There was certainly great interest in our BaxterStorey version of Fred's board game 'The Art of Servicewhich we use as training tool.

It would have been great to see a few more attendees at the launch itself, but these are early days and already it has captured the collective imagination of some of the biggest names in the industry. In any case, by live-tweeting the presentations (search for #nationalwaitersday), I was able to involve lots of people who couldn't be there in person. Certainly it generated lots of replies and retweets. The magic of Twitter! 

Well done Fred on a fantastic initiative. You may be at Galvin’s, but you’ve actually galvanised the entire industry around a noble idea: that waiting tables is a profession just as much, if not more, than cooking is.
The Art of Service, the fun role playing board game by Fred Serieix

Please visit the National Waiters Day website for inspiration on putting on an event or to take part in the race itself. You might want to put a special table in your canteen or workplace cafe that offers a 'posh' service. Or if you're more upmarket, then why not invite your senior management - or chefs! - to get involved in serving some of your customers. Any activity that raises the profile of our industry is a step in the right direction.

The small matter of 900 guests. And Sir Edmund.

10 years ago, at 7:30pm on this day, my team were serving canapes and drinks to 900 guests at the British Embassy in Kathmandu. The occasion was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund's amazing feat. There were about 500 Everest Summiteers in attendance and it was being covered by the BBC, CNN and National Geographic. 

Meeting Sir Edmund in private and away from the throng was for me a huge honour and something I will always look back on as a highlight in my life. He was very gracious, especially considering his 82 years and not feeling too well due to his hectic travel schedule. I said a funny line, we shared a laugh and he happily tucked into my Miniature Fish and Chips. A rare treat in a place like Kathmandu.

For this reason, the 29th of May is always a special day for me, but as today is the 60th Anniversary of that achievement - or 'Everest Day' in Nepal - it is even more special than usual.

Sir Edmund Hilary on the 50th Anniversary of his first summit of Everest at the British Embassy, Kathmandu.

[Video] Sky F1: Monaco GP by George the Poet

When it comes to marketing and creating that emotional connection with it's audience, nothing even comes close to Formula 1 these days. In case you missed it, take a look at this piece performed by George the Poet that SKY F1 put together for the Monaco Grand Prix which was shown live earlier today. A master stroke in bonding sport, glamour and history into one single point of sheer exhilaration.


Nine inspiring quotes from Springboard Ambassadors

Thinking about those two days with my BaxterStorey colleagues while we were training to be Springboard Ambassadors, I can't help but be inspired by some of the things they said during their presentations. Here's a few of my favourites:

Presenting to a group of women returning to the world of work:
"Leaving my son with someone else to care for him while I returned to work was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But I wanted to do the best for him and I needed to continue my career. Soon after joining BaxterStorey, I began to feel valued for being me and not just because a nappy needed changing."

Presenting to a group of 16 year olds:
"As a young lad walking into a kitchen for the first time, I was feeling very nervous. A Sous Chef came over and introduced himself with a firm handshake. We went on to become lifelong friends and he was best man at my wedding."

Presenting to a group of 16 year olds:
"I joined BaxterStorey as an assistant serving coffees. Seven years later I am a Manager in a prestigious law firm in charge of a team of 20 staff."

Presenting to a group of 16 year olds:
"We'll dress you, we'll feed you, we'll pay you. All we ask is that you turn up with bags of enthusiasm and we'll teach you the rest."

Presenting to a group of women returning to the world of work:
"I know as mothers and ladies you are multi-taskers who will do anything for your children and your families. You make them tea or coffee, you give them a cookie and you clear up after them. If you can do that, then I know you will be excellent at Hospitality."

Presenting to group of unemployed people at a job centre:
"For me, this was the first job I had where I didn't feel like a number. We called our new payroll system 'People Matters' because to us, people matter."

Presenting to a group of women returning to the world of work:
"When I re-visit a unit or site where I've helped out before, I am welcomed back with hugs from the team. It's like being part of a family."

Presenting to a group of 15 year olds at school:
"You might prefer to be revising for that dreaded exam coming up. Or maybe you want to put that off for as long as possible so you came to hear me. Well, if you give me 10 minutes of your time, it just might change your life."

Presenting to a group of undergraduates in their final year of college:
"Why do so many great companies choose BaxterStorey to provide their catering? Because I believe you get out what you put in. And we cook amazing food. Food for intelligence. Food for performance. Food for health and wellbeing. The recipe for our success is very simple. And you can be part of that."

So many great reasons to get into Hospitality. For me, it took only one and it has rewarded me ever since.

Shared Excellency, Springboard Ambassadors

Over the last few months, I have been mulling over how best to use my talent and passion for this industry to somehow 'give something back'. After sounding out some ideas, I was delighted to get an email saying that BaxterStorey was committed to recruiting a number of Springboard Ambassadors from within our business across the UK who could support some initiatives such as National Waiters Day and spread the word about what we do best and the Hospitality sector in general. That seemed like just the ticket for me and promptly signed up for the two days training on offer.
Springboard Ambassadors: (L-R) Scott, Cynthia, Renaud, Joanna, Ewa, Hannah, Kevin, David

Finally, on Tuesday morning we arrived at the gorgeous Blue Fin Building in Southwark. I guess one of the advantages of catering for some of the most prestigious companies in the UK is that you get to visit some stunning venues for your meetings and training. It was great to catch up with my friend (and fellow alumni from the Leadership Academy) Hannah who had travelled down from Nottingham. She's now expecting a baby. Luck girl. Meeting new colleagues within the business is always special and this was no different. Renaud for example was a very suave Frenchman who coaches kid's football on the weekends and David who is a part-time Police Community Support Officer go some way to demonstrating the calibre of professionalism in this roomful of Springboard Ambassadors-in-waiting.

Eventually Eileen, our warm and friendly trainer for the next two days, began the session with two simple questions: Who is our audience? and What effectively 'float's their boat'? If you identify those two aspects at the outset, you will build a very absorbing presentation that will really engage your audience. As Springboard Ambassadors, our target audience groups could be 15 and 16-year-old school children; unemployed people at a job centre; women returning to the world of work or perhaps undergraduates in their final year of college. Each group will be looking for different motivators. For example, friendship and feeling valued will appeal to women returning to work (very much part of our ethos by the way), whereas the potential to meet or look after celebrities might appeal to school leavers. (Some might laugh at that idea, but I still find that to be a huge attraction within this industry and was very honoured to be looking after the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago.)

During that first day, we had to make a five minute presentation to the group with Eileen giving us feedback, encouragement and guidance on areas of improvement. It was amazing to see nine totally different presentations based around just one set of audience/objectives criteria. Then we were given the dreaded homework: our task was to put together a ten minute presentation aimed at a different sector to be delivered to the group on Day Two. I don't like commuting if I can help it, but on this occasion I was happy to work on my slide deck during the two hour bus ride home and and again on the way back in the next morning. By the time I arrived back in that room, I felt I had something reasonably presentable.

One by one, my colleagues got up and made hugely compelling presentations that reminded me time and again of all the good things we do as a company and what our industry has to offer on the whole. Kevin for example described how he had considered being a van driver when he was leaving school, but his father counceled against it with the immortal phrase: You've heard people say; 'He's a great Chef', but who's ever said; 'He's a great van driver!'?

With this in mind, Kevin went on to catering college, but found he preferred the role of Waiter instead of cooking. Working his way up the career ladder, he now looks after the Executive Dining Rooms within the headquarters of a very large bank. And then Kevin said something very powerful.... "When the Chief Executive of the Bank is sitting down to lunch, he needs to present an image of responsibility and care on behalf of the Bank. Therefore the manner in which the lunch is served must reflect that. During those few minutes, the waiter presents the image the bank wants to convey to those guests. Professional and caring." Now that carries a lot of responsibility.

Eventually, we finished up our course and set off back home with aspirations of encouraging lots of new people to join our great sector. My enduring thought for anyone considering a career in Hospitality, is to remember Kevin's story. He chose to be a Waiter who delivers a great guest experience every day instead of just a van driver who simply makes deliveries. That's a journey worth taking.

If you want to get involved in volunteering as a Springboard Ambassador, contact Kerry Mabbley, Head of Ambassadors at Springboard UK on 07916 758775 or email her:

Gapingvoid: How To Supercharge Your Event

Some amazing visuals to think about for your next presentation from the master cartoonist Hugh MacLeod (or @gapingvoid as he is known as on Twitter).

"Cartoons and visual communications are a great way to make an event awesome - before, during and after the event."

Going viral is just the icing on the cake

I've mentioned Coffee within Social Media, so now it's time for cake because this picture has just gone absolutely ballistic on the Twittesphere. 

Chris Holmes resigned from his job with the Border Force so that he could concentrate on his cake making business. The thing is, he wrote the letter ON A CAKE. 

Naturally, he posted a picture of it on his personal Facebook account - who wouldn't? Next thing he knows, it's become an internet sensation. I retweeted his brother-in-law's reaction earlier this morning, but since then it has been picked up by the national press and news sites around the world.

For me, it's a fantastic piece of creativity, but I think the real reason it went viral is because it's such an inspiring story. The idea makes you daydream about jacking in that nine-to-five to chase your dreams. And even if you don't, you still want to root for him because he did in a spectacularly clever and engaging way. 

One thing is for sure, I can't think of a better way to get your cake business off to such a flying start. We wish you every success Mr. Cake. (Oops, looks like that link is down - possibly due to the intense interest it's generated including over 1 million views on Reddit as I post.)

Here's Chris's latest reaction to that err, problem...

This calls for cake, I say!

Remembering Lawrence Montagu OBE: Shaping lives by shaping minds

Having only just read of the terribly sad news though Facebook, I can’t help reflecting on the death of my former School Principal Lawrence Montagu O.B.E. after a long battle against cancer.
My former Headteacher Lawrence Montagu who died last Friday
He was such a pivotal character during my formative years and I feel particularly melancholic at the thought that here was a man whose time among us concluded far too soon.

Thinking back, it was during the second week of October in 1984 when the coach, on its final leg from Birmingham, pulled into Gloucester bus station completing an exhausting 
23-hour journey from Galway City in the west of Ireland. For myself, aged 13 at the time, and my two younger brothers, this was a far more seminal journey than we could have imagined as we left behind our school-friends, neighbours and relatives to start our new life in England. Dad was already there to meet us off the bus and quickly transferred our suitcases (we were allowed two each) into a waiting taxi before heading straight out to St. Peter’s High School on the Stroud Road to meet with the new Principal and get signed up at our new school. 

Despite being worn out from the trip, we were ushered in and instantly made to feel at home due to the tremendously warm and friendly welcome we received from Mr. Montagu who was only six or eight weeks into his new job at the time. Despite the formalities, he was happy to have a little banter with Mum who explained that all three siblings were left-handed and the Irish term for it was ciotóg (pronounced kith-ogue).

Two things I distinctly remember about Mr. Montagu in that first encounter; one was his youth and the other was his accent. My previous Headteacher (Seamus Cullinane at the Athenry Vocational School) was in his sixties (quite ancient when you’re twelve years old), so to see this dynamic thirty-something at the head of such a big school really made quite an impression on me. It was clear that age was not a prerequisite for leadership and it spurred me on to be as ambitious as I dared to be.

As for his Liverpudlian accent, I found it both disarming and intriguing. Having just arrived from the so-called fields of Athenry, (and I was as green as the song title suggests) it was the first time I met someone with such a distinctive English accent that you could actually pinpoint their origin. I have since developed a deep appreciation for the myriad of accents found here in the UK and find myself imitating them during lighter moments or especially when I am daydreaming about one thing or another. 

08Jun04: Catching up on latest news, Larry Montagu always made time for his alumni.
During my school years, I was lucky to discover my passion for cooking early on and concentrated on becoming the best chef and patissier I could be after I finished my ‘O’ levels. Somehow it also seemed natural to pop in every so often if I was passing to see Larry as I came to know him in later years and give him an update. He would delight in hearing about my travels to Bermuda and of opening a business in Kathmandu. When I introduced him to my wife on one chance visit in 2004, he organised a pot of tea and cancelled a budgeting meeting he was due to attend at the town hall. It was this generosity of goodwill that I came to admire in him most, especially when I think of the pressure he was under in running one of the UK's top comprehensive schools. 

I was delighted for Larry when I heard he had been awarded an O.B.E. for services to education - it certainly came was no surprise as he really did deserve the accolade. In a display of sincere humility about his achievement he would joke about the letters possible standing for "Other Bugger's Efforts". Again, his self-effacing leadership style was to deflect that spotlight of achievement onto the people around him upon whose shoulders he stood.

All was not well though when he told me how he was forced into a leave of absence in order to be treated after doctors discovered he had developed Prostate Cancer. A major bout of chemotherapy and sheer willpower put it in remission and allowed him to return to work. Sadly however the cancer returned more aggressively than before and had visibly affected his appearance and health on my last visit to see him in July of 2012. He was upbeat despite, as he put it himself, being given fewer than five years to live by his consultant at that stage.

During that final chat with him, I found a man resigned to the ravages of his own mortality and taking each day as it came, knowing there weren’t many left. The fact that he devoted every one of them to the well being of St. Peter's school community is truly a remarkable and noble act of human compassion that will forever remain his legacy. 

I understand he was due to retire at the end of this academic year, but it seems someone up there had other plans and Larry was sadly taken from us this gone weekend. My thoughts go out to his family, colleagues and pupils who, like me, will find it difficult to understand why such sad things are meant to be.

There is no doubt that Lawrence Montagu had a profoundly positive influence on shaping the careers of dozens of teaching staff and shaping the lives of many, many thousands of schoolchildren lucky enough to attend St. Peter’s High School over the last two generations. You only have to to read this tribute here and the comments posted from past pupils on this story here to see what a profound effect he had on the lives of the people he touched.

Mr. Montagu will be sadly missed by us all. Me especially.

Rest in Peace Sir.

Social climbing at the Influencer Summit

Exchanging ideas with CEO of Kred, Andrew Grill, Karen Fewell, Tania Duarte & Mark Batchelor
Another trip to London and another epic evening in great company at one of London’s iconic hotels. This time it was The Mayfair Hotel for a very exclusive invitation-only event in the company of some of the most influential movers and shakers in the world of Social Media and Social Business (Yes, there is a difference.) You’d also be right in wondering what the heck I was doing there...? Looking around the room, I had to wonder myself now and then, but that’s part of the fun; It’s a brave new world and I want to be at the frontier. 

To understand what it's all about, I’d better just explain to those unfamiliar with this stuff, that on that thing we call the internet there are a couple of tools (think of them as websites that you sign into) for measuring how much ‘influence’ one has in their social groups online. The two major players in this arena are Klout and Kred. (I like that they begin with ‘K’ - it is a very influential letter you know.). Klout was first, but Kred is better due to it's transparency. Since it was the 'Kred London Influencer Summit' that I was attending, I guess you can figure out my allegiance at this stage. But how did I get invited in the first place?

Attending a party a few weeks ago, I was chatting with Jeremy Waite (Social Strategist for Adobe - Get Well Soon Jeremy!), when we were interrupted briefly by the very dynamic entrepreneur Andrew Grill who went on to explain why he had a free iPad under his arm courtesy of EE. (It’s a good story by the way and worth a read here.) On my way home I saw that he had connected with me on Twitter, which was very generous and that was when I realised he was the CEO of Kred. Wow. Since then, we’ve had a few exchanges on the philosophy of ‘Social Business’ and probably the reason why I found myself on this prestigious guest list tonight.

To put Andrew Grill and Kred into some sort of perspective, I learned tonight that they have

200 million subscribers with a potential audience reach of 500 million people on Twitter and Facebook. That’s a lot of influence right there.

Now before you get all hung up on the flaws and challenges of influence being benchmarked as a number, you have to remember that it is only relevant within your zone or sphere of influence. Justin Bieber will have massive influence in your life if you happen to be a hyperactive screaming ‘tweener, but he will have no influence whatsoever in the world of offshore oil exploration as an example. At least online that is. Furthermore, he also has a very low score in terms of ‘reaching out’, since he hardly replies to these hordes of marauding teenagers. So the bottom line is that your ‘influence’ can be very large when looked at through the niche audience that you might appeal to.

From a personal perspective, my twitter feed has about 375 400 followers made up of mostly Hospitality professionals, social media guys and some public speakers. So within the realms of talking and tweeting about hospitality and marketing, I could be described as a giant. Beyond that however, I am merely a footnote at the bottom of the page in comparison to the Stephen Fry’s and Jamie Oliver’s of this word who command huge influence over all sorts of people since they're exceptionally famous AND are generous enough to reply and engage with their respective audiences.

That said, I have found the ‘Social Media Set’ quite an interesting bunch due to the crossover nature of their medium. They operate in a place where IT, Marketing, Mathematics, Sales, Research, PR, Sociology, Psychology, Entrepreneurship and Communications all get together to drink from the same watering hole. But the one thing that brings us together is our love for humanity and that social interaction, even if it is with someone you haven't met personally.

I’ll write a little about the products and vision Andrew revealed tonight in another post, but I am honoured to have been invited to have a sneak peek at his new kind of future and wish all the team at Kred every success in the coming months with this hugely ambitious rollout.

You guys rock.

Savoy Lecture: Our country needs us to be strong

What a great evening at The Savoy Hotel last night. As expected the service was impeccable, the food delicious (Oreo Cheesecake, who knew?) and the conversation very stimulating. After checking in coats and checking out some familiar names, we were ushered into the imposing ballroom. Recently refurbished, it was set out theatre-style with regimented rows of chairs facing one solitary lectern that loomed over them from the stage above, rather like a general facing his troops.

Naturally the BaxterStorey clan congregated and welcomed one another in from the bitter cold. As we chatted we caught ourselves stealing a glance now and then across the room towards our Chairman who was sat quietly near the front collecting his thoughts. With the atmosphere building, there was definitely a swelling sense of pride in our group, but this was tempered with nervousness as we willed our man at the helm to go out there and show these people just why he commands such loyalty and respect from the 10,000 strong team in his organisation. 

As the people-watching continued, we took our seats…. “That’s Alastair’s Sales Director talking to him just now..” said one prominent CEO nearby in a whisper to his wide-eyed young companion. I won’t repeat what he said to her next, but let’s just call it professional envy. Let’s face it, if we’re not irritating our competitors in the sales arena, then we’re doing it wrong.
The Lectern looms large as Alastair takes a call before the Arena Savoy Lecture. 

Up first was Jan Matthews, Chairman of Arena, who called the distinguished gathering to order and made the brief introduction of our speaker for the evening. Etiquette over necessity I imagine, but it helps to set the tone. Finally, as his name was called out, Alastair rose to his feet to thunderous applause and gingerly climbed the few steps onto the stage. His big moment was upon him and in that rich Aberdonian accent which we have come to appreciate, he opened with his trademark quip “I love this business”. And boy does he mean it when he says that phrase.

Now you might recall in my previous piece that I was looking forward to seeing 'how' he delivered almost as much as 'what' he delivered and I found his presentation to be a masterclass in remaining calm and assured despite the overwhelming nature of the occasion. Yes he did appear slightly flushed which I put down to the humility in his character (personally, I’d be beetroot red by now), but his composure quickly took shape and within a couple of minutes we found ourselves being invited into and challenged by his vision for the future of our industry. 

It’s easy to dwell on the meteoric rise and astronomical success of WSH Ltd’s track record over the last ten years, but instead he focused on a couple of proposals, or challenges perhaps, that he put to his audience of “friends, colleagues and competitors”. Each was a rallying call, not only to this esteemed audience, but to the wider industry as a whole:

  • He urged us to support our farmers and artisans through ethical procurement and a sustainable supply chain, even if it means paying more. And yes, he referred to the culprits of the recent horsemeat scandal as ‘fraudsters’. 
  • Given the mammoth contribution, totalling 8.5% of annual GDP, of our industry as a whole (from airlines to public sector to contract catering) we should command much more bargaining power in the political arena. Supporting the BHA will help achieve this rather than reinventing the wheel. 
  • He laid bare his "burning desire" to make Front of House service a more attractive proposition to our young talent - in the same way Chefs have done with cooking.
Janie Stamford at the Caterer and Hotelkeeper has picked up these points in more detail here.

In conclusion to a very thought-provoking and inspirational message, he left us with these impassioned words:
“Our country NEEDS us to be strong. 
NEEDS us to be ambitious. 
NEEDS us to be good employers. 
To be great trainers. 
To search for excellence. 
To care about our farmers and our producers. 
If we can rally around this concept, we can work together to articulate the many concepts that will make it a reality. 
As business leaders, you know that the initiative can only come from us.”
Long after the applause had died down, the discussion continued in the bar and over a sumptuous dinner afterwards. At one point I found myself reflecting on those words and I couldn’t help but notice the flawless service of our meal in that great room at The Savoy. The professionalism of the young staff serving at our table simply exemplified the very thing that Alastair was trying to articulate in his lecture. I believe his vision for the future of service was present in that room last night. And it will be tonight. And tomorrow night, whomever the guests might be. Getting school children, young people and Ministers to understand that is where the real work lays ahead. And that’s a journey full of opportunity. 

Congratulations Alastair on a truly inspiring lecture, thank you Arena for a memorable event, and thank you to The Savoy Hotel for reminding us of why we got into Hospitality in the first place. I’m sure my colleagues who attended last night will agree..we really do love this business.

For a fantastic Twitter timeline of events as they unfolded, you can read this Storify article put together by @DigitalBlonde:

Dinner and a Storey at The Savoy...

A quick post on my way into London for this year’s Savoy Lecture and dinner hosted by Arena, the professional network as I am gently getting more excited about what’s to come. Not so much for the food (which will be epic, as ever), or the stellar company (again, a veritable Who’s Who of the catering industry judging by the guest list here in my hand), but for the main event. I’m really excited by the prospect of listening to the keynote speech being delivered by Alastair Storey who happens to be Chairman of the company I work for.

No doubt, he will have some forthright views and interesting perspectives, but I will also be watching intently to see how he delivers that speech. Will it be a relaxed performance? Has he rehearsed and will it show? Will it be tailored to this audience? How will people react to his message? Will he have a call for action from such a platform? I guess what I am hoping to see is Alastair Storey demonstrating in stark fashion what it is that has made him one of our industry’s biggest stalwarts. To have reached the very pinnacle of the sector as he has, takes a unique star quality and that is something what is worth being present for.

Check in later to find out how the evening went, what the most powerful man in Hospitality had to say and what this might mean for the future of our industry. 

Meanwhile, dinner at The Savoy awaits….