Caterer and Hotelkeeper: Tim West and Mike Sunley, Lexington Catering

06 December 2012 by
Caterer and Hotelkeeper: Tim West and Mike Sunley, Lexington Catering

Overall ranking: 76 (ranked 45 in 2011)
Contract catering ranking: 12 (ranked 6 in 2011)

Since setting up Lexington Catering in 2002, Mike Sunley, co-founder and now chief executive, has, with chairman Tim West's help, built it into a successful business and industry caterer with annual turnover of £26m and 550 employees, (up from £20m and 400 employees the previous year). The company has 38 contracts and recently won the catering at Harley Davidson's headquarters in Oxford, Marlow International (a multi-tenanted building catering for 1,200 people per day) and a city law firm.

In 2010, the independent boutique caterer moved to a new London office, having outgrown its home near Mansion House, and set up at Queen Street, effectively doubling its space and adding a training room.

Tim West and Mike Sunley - Career guide
Prior to 2002, Mike Sunley was a board director for Avenance with responsibility for 130 contracts in London. Sunley had also held senior management roles with both High Table and Compass, accumulating more than 18 years of experience in the sector.

Tim West left school to work as a kitchen porter at army cadet camps. He abandoned a career in banking at Barclays to take his HND in hotel and catering administration at Oxford Brookes University.

From 1977, West took various catering roles at London NHS hospitals, concluding his time as district catering manager for the Guys Hospital Group. He moved to Compass in 1982, initially as operations manager for the City of London. Eventually he was handling 100 high-profile accounts as regional manager.

In 1987, at the age of 32, West became operations director of High Table, a privately owned caterer in the City of London with a £10m turnover. He became managing director in 1991 following its acquisition by Groupe Elior of France and grew the group into the UK's fourth-largest contract caterer. It was relaunched as Avenance UK in 2000 - when West became chief executive - and as Elior UK in 2005. West became the group's first chairman in June 2004.

West became chief executive of Lexington Catering in January 2006 - buying out co-founder Clare Prowse in the process - before stepping up to the role of chairman.

Tim West and Mike Sunley - What we think
With former sales and marketing director Julia Edmonds taking on the managing director's role - and high-profile clients such as Harley Davidson, it appears that Sunley and West have built a catering company set to endure. Ranking 11th on the full Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to Work For 2011 - in March (having featured on the SME list in 2009) shows that looking after the staff - which make the caterer what it is - hasn't been forgotten in the pursuit of growth.

Nor has focus been lost. Sunley told Caterer in 2010 that it wouldn't diversify - "we've always taken the view that we're a caterer and food is what we do, not facilities management" - and this is still the case.

Gossip circulating last year suggested that the company was on the verge of takeover by FM firm Mitie, but Sunley and West have denied that they want to sell. Instead, earlier this year they took on former River Cottage chef Daniel Stevens as its new development chef and Sunley and West are concentrating on home-grown initiatives, such as its Lexington Chef - competition.

With a solid foundation established, the recession negotiated and a strong senior team in place, including chef-director Rob Kirby and co-founders and directors Katharine Lewis and Rachael Lindner, Sunley and West look set for continued growth and success.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 2011: Tim West and Mike Sunley, Lexington Catering >>

Lexington's Rob Kirby writes charity cookbook for Great Ormond Street Hospital >>

The Caterer Interview: Mike Sunley >>

Lexington awarded Investors in People gold status >>

Lexington Catering website >>

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