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The Caterer

Chris Copner

21 September 2006
Chris Copner

Overall ranking: 40 (new entrant)

Contract caterer ranking: 10

Chris Copner is executive director of Compass Group's B&I division for the UK and Ireland.

Compass is the world's largest contract caterer and is market leader in the £3.865b UK market.

It owns a raft of brand names such as Eurest, Baxter & Platts, Restaurant Associates, Roux Fine Dining, Scholarest and Medirest.

The group, which employs in excess of 400,000 staff in more than 90 countries, announced annual sales of £12.7b in 2005 although reported profits tumbled by 53.8% to £171m and underlying profits fell by 19% to £581m.

Chris Copner - Career guide Chris Copner started his career in 1978 at accountant Peat Marwick, where he worked for two years.

He joined Sutcliffe Catering in 1980 and became finance director in 1990. When P&O sold the group to Granada in 1993, Copner's role was expanded to include other elements of the Granada business services division.

Copner became managing director of Granada's business services division following the group's hostile takeover of Forte in 1995.

Between 1996 and 2000, Copner was managing director of the Travelodge budget hotel brand and the Little Chef chain of roadside restaurants.

Copner was appointed managing director of Compass Group's roadside division in 2000 following the merger of Granada's foodservice business with Compass UK.

In 2003, Copner became managing director of the Select Service Partner UK following the merger of the roadside division with the retail division. Here, he was responsible for all Compass's travel and retail business in the UK and Ireland, which included the Moto motorway services areas, SSP UK Rail and SSP Airports and Marine.

Copner was appointed to his current role in 2005.

Chris Copner - What we think Chris Copner's roles before and after Compass's merger with Granada have reflected the caterer's diversification to become leaders in new markets.

In his final four years at Granada, Copner presided over the doubling of the Travelodge estate to more than 10,000 bedrooms across 200 locations. He also oversaw the construction of in excess of 100 Burger Kings alongside Little Chefs.

The Granada acquisitions made Compass the UK market leader in hotels and roadside restaurants - but investors were unimpressed and the group's share price dropped by 15%.

Even after Compass responded by offloading most of the Forte hotel brands (including Posthouse, Heritage and Le Meridien) it held on to Travelodge and Little Chef but finally bowed to the pressure and sold them to venture capital firm Permira for £712m in February 2003.

Copner's next division, SSP, was also facing the chop by September 2005.

Overall, SSP ran more than 2,000 catering and retail sites in more than 600 railway, roadside and airport locations in 26 countries, but principally in the UK and Continental Europe. It included the 43-strong chain of Moto motorway service areas, Rail Gourmet, Inflight, Harry Ramsden's and Millies Cookies.

The business was lucrative, turning over £1.9b in the year to September 2005 when it achieved an Ebitda of £115m, but it was also highly capital-intensive. Its subsequent two-part flog-off in April 2006 for £1.9b returned Compass to its core contract catering and support service business.

Nevertheless, Copner has landed on his feet against a backdrop of restructures that will have seen 400 management jobs and several executive jobs axed since 2005.

He now heads up the group's largest division and presides over a stable of brand names that include Compass's own Eurest, and others including, Baxter & Platts, Shaw Catering and Summit Catering.

Like his competitors, Copner is having to cope with tighter margins, sluggish growth, increasing levels of risk built into contracts, and increasing pressure to boost prices to customers as clients demand lower subsidies.

In 2005, his division achieved like-for-like growth of 9% (against a worldwide B&I average of 6% and a UK group average of 6%). In the half-year to March 2006, the growth had tailed off to 5%.

Chris Copner - Further information

Compass profile on CatererSearch

Compass official website

Compass profile on Google

Read more about the CatererSearch 100, the list of the most influential people here

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