Jan Matthews has worked for hotels, contract caterers, the BBC, the military, the education sector and also managed a team of 22,000 as head of catering at the 2012 London Olympics. After a three-year break from hospitality, she joined corporate hospitality supplier Smart Group as chief operating officer in October 2018. Chris Gamm discovers her plans
Tell us about Smart Group
Smart has three divisions. Smart Hospitality runs events venue Battersea Evolution, which seats 2,300 for dinner, as well as lots of sports hospitality, including Ascot, Twickenham and Wimbledon. Second, Moving Venue is a listed caterer for London venues like the Tower of London and Guildhall, and third is Smart Live, our production company.
The business has grown significantly in the past few years, with 15% growth last year and the same forecast for this year.
What’s driving this growth?
We’re winning more tenders and we have a lot of repeat business. We’ve taken on two new events venues this year – Illuminate at the Science Museum and Magazine on the Greenwich Peninsula.
Next year, we’re bringing the biggest boat London will have ever seen over from Amsterdam. It will be moored at Swan Lane near London Bridge and we’ll take it up and down the Thames. It will sit 600 for dinner and 1,500 for a reception.
Did you have as much fun at the London Olympics as the rest of us?
I was making calls from 5.45am until midnight, so I was working hard, but it was the best experience of my career. I was used to having three weeks to mobilise a contract that lasted three years; this was three years to mobilise something that would last 17 days.
I was responsible for the food and beverage across all of the games. Everything from the bus drivers to the athletes’ village and the venues. Plus, we ensured that all the cleaning was done and all the waste tidied up afterwards. We served 17 million meals in just under three weeks.
What are your objectives for the year ahead?
I tend to manage by a balanced scorecard, so I look at process, people, customer and financials. I make sure we identify what development and skills we need to take our people forward. For customers, what’s the target for retention and growth? For processes, how often do we get everything off on time and right first time? Then, what does the bottom line and revenue look like, and what are the key performance indicators for the business?
What will be your biggest challenges?
We have Brexit plans in place. We are a predominantly British company and buy the vast majority of what we serve locally, but we have plans with suppliers for items we get from abroad.
If we do come out on 29 March, I’m absolutely sure London will be looking to attract a lot of business from all over the world. That will require hospitality, conferences, all that type of thing. I do think it will be good for business.
You’re described as having a “dynamic approach” to business. What do you differently?
I’m enthusiastic and I get things done. Christmas was extremely busy, generating 40% of our annual revenue, but I was on the hotplate because I enjoy it and you’ve got to be part of the team and help where you can.