When The Caterer unveiled its Top 100 most powerful people in hospitality in April, eyebrows were raised at the lack of women in top jobs in hospitality. Lisa Jenkins looks at the top 10 women in the list and asks what it took for them to break through in the industry
In April, The Caterer reported that the hospitality industry was strides ahead of the national average, with women being paid a median hourly rate 1% lower than men. At the time, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “The figures reflect what we already know – that the sector has a strong record of fairness between genders. Many women thrive in full-time hospitality roles, while the sector also continues to offer flexible working options that suit different lifestyles.”
But does this reflect every tier of the industry? At a roundtable organised by The Caterer and Alaska Seafood in April, an all-female panel agreed that having just 13 women in The Caterer’s list of the Top 100 most powerful people in hospitality demonstrated an imbalance at the top of the industry.
Sarah Miller, regional managing director at BaxterStorey, said: “There is a good balance at entry level and middle management but, sadly, not in senior positions. Change percolates through at the lower levels first. It’s generational and that will continue to change.”
Charlotte Jakubecz, BaxterStorey retail and merchandising manager at Amazon’s HQ in London, said that now she is a junior manager she has become a self-proclaimed champion for women in her team and the wider industry.
Monica George, international marketing co-ordinator for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said gender was less of an issue in the Alaskan seafood industry: “Many of our fishermen – which is how they like to be known – are women. In Alaska, anyone can run their own fishing boat. The success of a boat is driven not by gender, but by knowledge of the water, fishing skill and handling practice.”
It’s a hot topic and last month, global coffee capsule supplier Nespresso held a panel debate at Claude Bosi’s Bibendum restaurant inLondon, in which chefs including Bosi, Michael Wignall, Daniel Clifford and Ruth Hansom addressed the subject of the lack of women in the industry.
Bosi has a team of 17 in his kitchen, of whom five are women. He said that this has created a kitchen with less swearing – but that women are more competitive. Wignall said that staff were hard to come by in general and that he always receives fewer CVs from women. He agreed with Bosi that female staff tend to bring a calm and organisation to the kitchen.
Sommelier Sandia Chang, co-owner of Bubbledogs and the Kitchen Table, said that she never considers the gender of staff, but recruits based on talent and passion for the job. Jessica Wragg, online operations manager at the Ginger Pig, who describes herself as a girl butcher, said the meat industry is not seen as an attractive sector in which to work and that butchery training courses are long and hard, but she “found her confidence at 18 and wasn’t going to let that stop her succeeding”.
The women in this top 10 list, taken from The Caterer’s overall Top 100, are inspirational, as are Miller, Jakubecz, George, Wragg and Chang. They all speak with passion and expertise about their respective fields and are no doubt future industry power players.
Kit Kemp, who sits at number 35 in the Top 100 as co-owner of Firmdale Hotels, is the driving force behind her brand’s design. Not only has she led Firmdale to success, but she is regarded as one of the most distinctive interior designers in the business. Karen Forrester, chief executive officer of TGI Fridays, is new to the Top 100. She is often cited as one of the most brilliant leaders in the hospitality industry, and she started her career as a waitress. At eight and nine are Angela Hartnett and Clare Smyth – both exemplary, world-famous chefs – and at number 10 we have an MBA-holding accountant, Jane Holbrook of Wagamama.
Speaking at the Alaska Seafood roundtable, Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager at the Capital hotel, said she has seen more women in management roles than ever before and that a greater talent pool can only lead to more future female chief executives. All eyes will be on how many appear in the next The Caterer Top 100.
1 Kit Kemp, Firmdale Hotels
Top 10 overall: 35
Kit Kemp is the co-founder of Firmdale Hotels, a collection of individual boutique hotels founded in 1985. The group currently has eight hotels in London (Charlotte Street, Covent Garden, Dorset Square, Ham Yard, Haymarket, Knightsbridge, Number Sixteen and the Soho) and two in New York (Crosby Street and the Whitby). When it comes to Firmdale Hotels, the standout featureis Kit’s designs. She and her team create spaces that are adventurous, fun and beguiling, with an exquisite attention to detail that includes artwork and furnishings from around the world. Every bedroom in the portfolio features Firmdale’s oversized headboards and dressmaker dummies, and more and more areas of the hotels are home to the fabric and carpet designs Kit has created in conjunction with Chelsea Textiles, Christopher Farr and Wilton Carpets.
Winners of the Best Employer Award at the 2017 Cateys, the Kemps are now thought to be scouring London, New York and Los Angeles for their next property. Expect to see Firmdale inspiring many a hotelier for some years to come.
2 Karen Forrester, TGI Fridays
Top 100 overall: 41
Karen Forrester is leading figure in the hospitality business. She began as a waitress while still studying and realised that she had found her niche. She went on to work for Mitchells & Butlers, working her way up to divisional director. She then moved to Laurel Pubs as managing director for three years, before joining TGI Fridays UK in 2007 as managing director of the then 46-strong chain.
Forrester is recognised as one of the most team-focused leaders in the sector. She understood that bringing in the right people, training them and developing their knowledge was the key to the brand’s success. She has seen the business grow to 82 restaurants in the UK and win multiple industry awards – many of which have specifically recognised her leadership.
3 Carolyne Vale, Wilson Vale
Top 100 overall: 46
Carolyne Vale co-founded Wilson Vale with her husband Andrew Wilson in 2002 with £50,000, a laptop and some spare space above the garage at their Derbyshire home. Operating within the business and industry, private education and conference venue sectors across the UK, Wilson Vale has largely eschewed the bright lights of the highly competitive London market to carve out a niche as a key regional player. Annual turnover increased by 14.7% year-on-year to push past £25m for the first time in the financial year ending 31 December 2016, while pre-tax profit topped £2m. The caterer says it expects revenues to reach £27m by the end of 2017.
4 Alison Brittain, Whitbread
Top 100 overall: 48
Alison Brittain was new to the hospitality industry when she took over as chief executive of Whitbread from Andy Harrison just two years ago. Despite the recent announcement of the de-merger of the Costa coffee chain from the Whitbread business within the next two years, the company’s recent annual results reported a 6.1% increase in turnover to £3.3b, alongside a 4.5% rise in underlying pre-tax profit to £591m. Brittain was group director for retail of Lloyds Banking Group prior to joining Whitbread and has held senior roles at Santander and Barclays. From University of Stirling business studies graduate to winner of the 2017 Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year award, Brittain has travelled a long way up the corporate ladder to her current role of steering Whitbread through the choppy waters of change that lie ahead.
5 Sunaina Sethi, JKS Restaurants
Top 100 overall: 52
What started as a one-Michelin-starred restaurant – Trishna in London – has grown into a mini empire popular with guides, critics and customers alike. JKS Restaurants (named after Jyotin, Karam and Sunaina Sethi, the three siblings behind it) has two Michelin-starred restaurants of its own (Trishna, plus Gymkhana in Mayfair), as well as two sites in London under its casual Sri Lankan street food brand Hoppers. Turnover for JKS Restaurants Holdings during 2016 rose 30% year on year to £13.4m, with a pre-tax loss of £777,820, compared with a pre-tax loss of £123,652 the previous year.
JKS also backs a number of notable London eateries, including Michelin-starred Lyle’s, James Knappett and Sandia Chang’s Bubbledogs and Michelin-starred Kitchen Table, the Bao restaurants in Soho and Fitzrovia and the Taiwanese restaurant Xu. Earlier this year, it also backed Sabor, a new restaurant from Nieves Barragán Mohacho and José Etura, who were previously executive chef and group general manager respectively of Barrafina.
6 Thomasina Miers, Wahaca
Top 100 overall: 53
Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby are the business partners behind the 25-strong Wahaca restaurant group. Since opening their first Wahaca in London’s Covent Garden in 2007, they have taken their Mexican street food concept across the capital and then nationwide. They also operate two sites under the DF/Mexico street food brand, as well as a Burrito Mama venue, all in London.
Miers was the winner of BBC Two’s MasterChef in 2005. Her background had been in VAT consultancy, digital strategy and marketing before she went to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland in 2001. She opened a large cocktail bar in Mexico City in 2003 and spent nearly a year in Mexico learning about the local cuisine. Following her MasterChef win, she spent six months at the Petersham Nurseries Café, working for head chef Skye Gyngell.
Wahaca’s accolades include the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Sustainable Restaurant Group of the Year award in 2012 and the Restaurateur of the Year – Group Catey in 2016.
7 Wendy Bartlett, Bartlett Mitchell
Top 100 overall: 66
Wendy Bartlett is executive chairman of independent caterer Bartlett Mitchell, which she launched in 2000 with chairman Ian Mitchell. The firm, alongside sister brand Inn or Out Events, which it acquired in 2014, delivers workplace catering, executive dining, hospitality and event catering as well as reception and concierge services throughout London and south-east England. Bartlett has worked in the foodservice industry since she started as a trainee manager with Sutcliffe Catering in 1980. She became Compass Group UK and Ireland’s account director for British Airways in 1995 and then its operations director for London.
Accolades have racked up for the company, including the 2015 Foodservice Caterer of the Year Catey for Bartlett herself. Under her no-nonsense leadership, the caterer remains firmly focused on its core principles of respect for clients, team development and ethical operation, with a passion for quality food. Bartlett sits on the board of the British Hospitality Association, is one of the Women1st Top 100 Women in Hospitality and in 2015 received an MBE for services to the hospitality industry in the New Year’s Honours list.
8 Angela Hartnett, Murano, Café Murano, Hartnett Holder & Co
Top 100 overall: 71
Angela Hartnett is chef-patron of Michelin-starred Murano in Mayfair, London, and co-owner of restaurant Hartnett Holder & Co, which she operates at Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest alongside head chef Luke Holder. She also operates two Café Murano restaurants in St James’s and Covent Garden; Pastificio; and the Merchants Tavern restaurant, Shoreditch, which is run by her fiancé, chef Neil Borthwick. In partnership with the Lime Wood Group, she runs Cucina Angelina at the Portetta hotel in the French Alps.
Hartnett has had a spectacular career. She worked in the famously tough setting of Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine in 1994, went on to Zafferano and L’Oranger, and was head chef under Marcus Wareing at Pétrus in St James’s, London.
In 2001 she launched Gordon Ramsay’s Amaryllis in Glasgow, followed by Verre in Dubai. She returned to England in 2002 to launch Menu and the Grill Room at the Connaught hotel in Mayfair, London She was awarded her first Michelin star in 2004.
Her name was over the door at the Connaught in London for over five years. Since establishing herself as an authority on Italian cuisine (taking inspiration from her maternal grandmother, who came from Bardi in Emilia-Romagna), the chef is now a media staple, appearing regularly in magazine pages and on prime-time television.
In 2007 she was awarded an MBE for her services to the hospitality industry and published her first cookery book, Angela Hartnett’s Cucina: Three Generations of Italian Family Cooking.
She opened Murano – a 70-cover restaurant in Queen Street, Mayfair – as chef-proprietor in 2008 under the Ramsay umbrella and won a Michelin star within a year. In, 2009, she became the first female chef to win the prestigious Catey Chef Award.
9. Clare Smyth, Core by Clare Smyth
Top 100 overall: 73
Born in Northern Ireland, Clare Smyth grew up on a farm in County Antrim and moved to England at 16 to learn the skills that would eventually make her a three-Michelin-starred chef. Her quiet but meteoric rise to chef-patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and now chef-patron of her own restaurant, Core by Clare Smyth, is one of the most impressive career stories of our time.
During her time at college, Smyth took on an apprenticeship at Grayshott Hall (now Grayshott Health Spa) in Surrey. Her thirst for knowledge drove her to work under many influential chefs in the UK and around the world, including Bibendum in London; the three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire; the two-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park in Chagford, and at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, where she worked her way up to head chef.
In 2005, she went to work in the kitchen of Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monte Carlo and, despite being offered a role at the Dorchester outpost, in 2007 she returned to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as head chef. In 2012 she became chef-patron. Smyth maintained three Michelin stars (becoming the first female chefin the UK to do so), a score of 10 out of 10 inthe Good Food Guide and five AA rosettes.
Smyth was named the Good Food Guide’s Chef of the Year in 2013 and in the same year was awarded an MBE. She was won the Chef Award at the 2016 Cateys and in 2017 pickedup the inaugural Michelin Female Chef trophy (although Smyth, like Angela Hartnett, dislikes being judged differently to her fellow male chefs).
She announced her departure from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in October 2015 and in July 2017 she opened the doors to her first solo venture, Core in Notting Hill.
10 Jane Holbrook, Wagamama
Top 100 overall: 79
Wagamama is one of the UK’s original Japanese-inspired restaurant groups, having launched its first restaurant in Bloomsbury in 1992 under founder Alan Yau. In 1997 the group was bought out by Ian Neill and Graphite Capital, who helped to steer the brand’s meteoric growth. It was sold to private equity firm Lion Capital in 2005, which in turn sold it in 2011 to Duke Street Capital.
Chief executive Jane Holbrook took charge of Wagamama at a time when the pan-Asian group was entering an ambitious new phase. She joined as chief financial officer in 2014 before rising to chief operating officer to assist in the group’s Kaizen Project, which will see the restaurants refurbished and the chain expand overseas.
Under Holbrook’s watch, Wagamama has continued to revamp dozens of sites and its international expansion plans. Two new US sites have opened in New York to add to the three existing ones in Boston. Meanwhile, franchise deals have been signed in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy to expand its presence in Europe. All of this saw a bump in earnings in 2017, with turnover increasing 15% to £257.7m, up from £223.7m in the year before. Pre-tax profit grew 25% from £28.5m up to £35.7m.