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Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Kate Martin, Brookwood Partnership

01 July 2011
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Kate Martin, Brookwood Partnership

Overall ranking: 93 (NEW ENTRY)

Contract catering ranking: 12 (NEW ENTRY)

As one third of the Brookwood Partnership, managing partner Kate Martin, along with Graham Sibthorp and Sue Parfett, heads a business that caters in over 60 independent schools within London and the South East region, with an annual turnover of more than £19m. Brookwood, set up in 1996, serves more than 36,000 pupils and staff every school day and - notably before Jamie Oliver's school meals campaign - had a banned list of food ingredients and a commitment to fresh, stylishly prepared dinners. The company has 700 staff.

Kate Martin - Career guide

After completing an OND in Catering and Hotel Management in 1979 at Cassio College in Watford, Martin joined Stuart Cabeldu catering as a management trainee. This led to a role as chef manager in a business & industry site catering for 300 covers a day with a team of three staff. It also meant that Martin would come to be regarded as the "foodie" by her Brookwood Partners.

At Stuart Cabeldu, Martin won promotion to catering manager at a larger site in 1981 and diverted to company training manager in 1983. She stayed with Stuart Cabeldu for more than 15 years in roles that included operations manager and group manager at one of its subsidiary companies, which produced more than 18,000 sandwiches a day.

In 1994 the company was sold to Aramark, then called ARA. Martin performed the role of regional director, managing the Stuart Cabeldu business (£11m turnover, 75 sites) until it was fully integrated within Aramark in 1995.

At that stage she went on maternity leave in effect never to return to her previous employer again. Instead Martin would found the Brookwood Partnership with Graham Sibthorp and Sue Parfett in 1996.

Having learnt her trade at one of the large caterers Martin believed there was another way, one that would win commitment and dedication from staff too often left to feel like wage-slaves. Brookwood is therefore modelled on retailer the John Lewis Partnership's employment structure. Qualifying employees from the workforce have long enjoyed a profit-share bonus, and the Investors in People company claims it conducts 16,000 hours of staff training each year - well beyond the statutory food-handling requirement.

Perhaps inevitably, Brookwood received Caterer's very own Best Places to Work in Hospitality award for contract catering in both 2006 and 2007 (a
commendation in 2008), and again in 2009.

In March 2008 the caterer was also recognised in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list, before repeating the feat last year proving it is still living up to its stated aim of being an employer of choice.

Martin was, along with Brookwood co-founder Sue Parfett, named in Women 1st's Top 100 Women in Hospitality list earlier this year.

Kate Martin - What we think

Martin and her colleagues have always had a singular, almost peculiarly single-minded focus with Brookwood that has seen them do what they do best: provide good nutritious food in a professional way at a company where each employee really does have a vested interest in ensuring the caterer's continuing success. While being the biggest has never been the company's goal, its unflinching commitment to the private school market has meant that it was for many years hardly a household name even within its own business sector. But this is, much like its Planet Matters environmental commitment, a venture based on stable, sustainable foundations and with Martin's receipt of a Catey in 2008 it was felt (by the judging panel of industry peers) that the business has, almost stealthily, reached maturity. It was also noted that Martin had played more than her fair share in helping it get there. Despite the emergence of rivals such as Holroyd Howe Independent in recent years, challengers to Brookwood's independent school crown still look thin on the ground.

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Brookwood Partnership website >>

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