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The Caterer interview: Stephen Moss

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The Caterer interview: Stephen Moss
Written by:

Industry veteran and winner of the 2015 Cateys Special Award, Stephen Moss is the founder of Springboard, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes careers in the sector

What prompted you to launch Springboard?

In the 1980s I was running the family restaurant, Drakes in Pond Place in London. It was English cuisine, so we wanted to recruit English front-of-house staff. Frustratingly, we couldn’t get any. I just didn’t get it – why were young people not keen on working in such an exciting industry?

I got involved with the then Restaurateurs’ Association of Great Britain. It was about the time of Robert Carrier, Roy Ackerman and Prue Leith. I did a lot of careers work with them and with the Inner London Education Authority to get careers officers into posh restaurants in London to understand the skills needed. It gathered momentum. The hospitality industry was growing and they wanted home-grown talent, too.

So what was needed to jump-start home-grown recruitment?

Careers activity within the industry was uncoordinated and disjointed. A hotel group might have had one property working with a school, but the others were not. We came up with an idea to create a one-stop shop – this hadn’t been done in the industry before.

Lord Charles Forte, founder of the Trusthouse Forte Hotels, provided two high-level executives – Chris Beaumont and Peter Martin. Chris was seconded to help set up Springboard and run it until it launched. We got commitments from Forte, InterContinental, Rank, Savoy, Taylor Walker, Whitbread and even Madame Tussauds. Many of them are still with us 25 years later. We went to the Department of Employment and got them onside, too. The government provided us with a building above a specialist hospitality Jobcentre at a peppercorn rent. In fact, this arrangement lasted 20 years, until the last recession, when they eventually kicked us out.

So, tell us about the early days of Springboard

Well, Springboard was officially launched by the then employment secretary Michael Howard in October 1990. There were just four of us. We went around schools and colleges to raise the profile of the sector as a career choice. It was much-maligned. In the first five weeks, we had 567 enquiries about careers, 125 letters and 200 telephone enquiries.

What was Springboard’s remit?

We wanted to act as a catalyst to get the industry to work together to improve its image as an employer. We also wanted to be innovative, to show young people that the industry is an exciting place to work. We did things such as set up a discovery trail in Covent Garden in London to open students’ eyes to the many restaurants, bars and hotels in a small area, so they could see the opportunities.

Who helped lead it in the early days?

In 1990, Peter Evans was chief executive, followed by Lady Catherine Parr from 1993 to 1994, then Robin Marrow and now Anne Pierce.

I met Anne when she was director at the Hotel and Catering Training Board [later the Hospitality Training Foundation]. She used her experience to help to successfully bid for £450,000 of government funds. Anne then took Springboard forward nationally along with me and a fantastic board.

How does it feel to look back at what Springboard has achieved in a quarter century?

It has been an amazing journey, although we have had to get through two recessions. It has been a thrill to see it succeed in the vision of getting the industry to work together with us as a catalyst. And to see that so many of the original companies are still involved.

In 2001 the organisation split into a charitable arm and Springboard UK. How does that work?

Not all of our activities are ranked as charitable, so they come under Springboard UK. It supports the charity, promotes the industry and, through business partnerships, it provides services for individual companies.

Recent years have seen particular success, yet we have come through a punishing recession. How have you managed it?

Yes, the last seven years have been a real period of growth. When we hit 2008, the recession was a serious challenge. Inevitably, there was a drop in charitable donations and financial support from business partners who weren’t spending their tighter budgets with us.

In response, we worked hard at fundraising. But ironically the recession also meant there was greater demand for our Into Work activities. This meant there was increased revenues from local and national government, trusts and foundations.

So Springboard is financially stable?

We started back in 1990 with revenues of £400,000, it went to £1m for a while and then by 2010 it was £2m and is now at about £3.1m. Even so, we are aware you can hit the buffers fairly quickly in a recession. We have now built up nearly £500,000 in reserves in case it happens again.

Today, Springboard is more stable because there is a mix of income. It is spread across traditional fundraising and charitable giving as well as grants from foundations in return for specific work, and contracts for Into Work programmes, business partnerships and sponsorships. FutureChef, where suppliers get involved, is thriving.

What are your concerns this year?

After 25 years, the image of Springboard is great, but it has taken time to build it. Once in a while other, similar, organisations are set up, but this is not helpful. It isn’t practical if there are too many organisations.

There is still a huge amount to do. The industry has grown rapidly and we are reliant on labour from EU countries, so there is still a huge opportunity for home-grown talent.

We have definitely cracked it when it comes to chefs, though. FutureChef has helped to raise the profile of becoming a chef as a career and there is a year-long programme of mentor chefs going into schools. There is still a lot to do to raise the profile of front of house, though.

How do you still feel fired up about Springboard after all this time?

What turns me on 25 years later is when I hear stories of young people who have come from difficult backgrounds – they may have been involved with gangs, been in trouble at school – and we get them into work and they fly.

Some people are withdrawn and shy, but if you can light the touchpaper, they find they can speak in front of hundreds of people at the Big Hospitality Conversation and tell the world that they are now in a junior management position. Springboard is about changing lives.

What about the other hospitality-related businesses you run?

By 1998, I had sold Drakes and was operating One Ninety Queen’s Gate with Antony Worrall Thompson, Richard Shepherd and Roy Ackerman. I stayed in the industry until 1995.

I am still involved in sector-related businesses. I am chairman of Bibendum wine distributors, Bonasystems flooring products and Safestay, a growing youth hostel business. I love that I am working with companies who support Springboard.

How has the industry changed?

The level of training and development in the sector has vastly improved. The minimum wage has ironed out rogue operators, some of the split shifts have changed, the progression routes are clearer and we are friendlier to older workers. Also, we are not the only 24/7 industry out there any more, so our industry is perceived as more normal.

We are still in the lower quartile in terms of pay, but there is growth. Travel used to be seen as sexier by parents and students, but it now has lower rates of pay than hospitality.

Our industry is now bigger and more professional and the quality of establishments is higher. But we are still beavering away. Youth unemployment is a problem.

Can Springboard take credit for the boost in hospitality’s image?

Yes, we can certainly take credit for making the industry work harder to improve its image.

Our Inspire quality accreditation, for instance, promotes good work experience practice and we aim to facilitate 15,000 work placements this year. Our research shows the single biggest influencer on career choice is work experience, so these placements mean there’s a better chance of getting kids into the industry. That wouldn’t have happened without Springboard.

 

CV

March 2014-present

Non-executive director, Safestay, an AIM-listed contemporary hostel business

September 2013-present

Chairman, Bibendum PLB Group, an independent wine merchant

December 2011-present

Chairman, Bonasystems, a floor care and anti-slip chemical specialist, serving the hotel, leisure and transport sector

2000-present

Chairman, Grosvenor Securities, a commercial property investment and development company in London

1996-November 2013

Trustee at People 1st

1990-2007

Managing director, BCP Airport Parking. Sold to Q-Park in 2003, staying on as managing director until 2007

1990-present

Chairman, Springboard UK

1988-1995

Director and shareholder, One Ninety Queen’s Gate restaurant with Antony Worrall Thompson, Richard Shepherd and Roy Ackerman

1978-1988

Owned and ran Drakes in Pond Place, a Michelin-rated English restaurant in Chelsea

Education

Read law at King’s College London and was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn. Took a postgraduate masters in business studies at the London Business School

Moss was awarded an MBE in 1992 for services to the restaurant industry and a CBE for his contribution towards education and training in 2002, having launched Springboard in 1990
 

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