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Robyn Jones famously started up contract caterer Charlton House from her back bedroom in July 1991 with the help of a £2,500 redundancy cheque. Fifteen years later she heads up a £50m-turnover business that includes some enviable clients on its books.
"And she has done it all single-handedly," noted one of the judges. "She really works hard at it and is involved in every job. It's deeply impressive."
Jones's first job in catering was as a washer-upper with Midland Catering on a graduate traineeship. She quickly rose through the ranks to become chef-manager of a Suffolk boarding school.
This was followed by two years at Gardner Merchant as catering manager for two big London clients, before moving to the role of catering advisory officer for the potato marketing board in 1985. This was followed by spells at High Table and Compass.
Her first contract after setting up Charlton House was won after six months with Guide Dogs for the Blind and she ended her first financial year with three contracts, 16 staff and a £340,000 turnover.
The big break came in 1994 when Charlton House won a £400,000 deal with at Sony's corporate headquarters in Weybridge, Surrey. Since then the client list has burgeoned, thanks to what one of the judges called her "hands-on involvement". They include the American Embassy in London, BUPA's corporate headquarters, Network Rail and T-Mobile. "She never ever lets a client down and has very good judgement on whether to bid for deals or not," the judge noted.
In 2004, Charlton House was ranked the UK's 67th fastest-growing business in the Deloitte Indy 100 survey and the company has picked up numerous business and entrepreneurial awards throughout its history.
Despite having two children, Jones also finds time to give back to the industry. She is a trustee of hospitality charity PM Trust, a guardian member of Hospitality Action and a patron of the Association of Catering Excellence.
Together with husband and chairman Tim, Jones has instilled an open culture at every level of the company, where everyone has a voice and she is freely available at the other end of a mobile phone.
It is also her attention to detail that has won her many plaudits in the industry and every member of staff receives a birthday card, a Christmas present and an Easter gift.
Other incentive schemes include an internal awards programme and a "Golden Envelope" scheme to thank people who have made an outstanding contribution to the company.
With a financial performance to back up the rhetoric, Charlton House is today the largest independent caterer in the UK to have grown organically. As one judge said: "Not through acquisitions, just through word of mouth and recommendations. That says a lot about what they stand for."
And as another judge noted: "She's single-minded and has successfully ploughed her own furrow in the business. It's bordering on ridiculous that she hasn't won it before."
- Mike Audis, chief executive, Elior UK
- Robyn Jones, chief executive officer, Charlton House
- Johnny Roxburgh, managing director, the Admirable Crichton
- Alastair Storey, chief executive, BaxterStorey
- Peter Aldrich, senior vice-president, ISS
- Norman Deas, chairman, Association for Catering Excellence (ACE)
- Roger Denton, consultant
- Jonathan Doughty, group managing director, Coverpoint Catering Consultancy
- Mike Smith, joint managing director, BaxterStorey
- Chris Stern, managing director, Stern Consultancy
- Richard Wedgbury, chairman, FCSI