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The Caterer

Food Service Caterer of the Year

08 July 2004
Food Service Caterer of the Year

Sponsored by P&G Professional

Mike Smith

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At a time when companies are struggling to retain staff, judges singled out this year's Food Service Caterer of the Year winner as a fantastic motivator of people who puts a great emphasis on training and stability.
One judge, and competitor, said: "He's the quiet, genuine guy who makes the training happen. He's innovative with his staff - particularly with chefs, taking them, for example, to workshops at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant."
Smith has spent his entire career in the food service sector. Over the years he has risen from a position as unit manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, to area manager, sales manger and, finally, managing director of two independent companies.
For the past 20 years he has worked closely with William Baxter, firstly at Baxter & Platts, and since 2000 as the managing director of BaxterSmith.
Both companies have achieved great things, but the public face of this success has more often than not been William Baxter's rather than Mike Smith's.
After Robert Platts and William Baxter sold their company to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>

Granada in 1997 for £16m, Smith, who was not a shareholder, showed great resilience in continuing to manage Baxter & Platts under Granada for a further three years. In May 2000 he co-founded BaxterSmith and helped it grow by its second year to a business with sales of £16m and a profit of £400,000. The company says it expects to hit a target of £22m for the financial year 2003-04 and currently has 800 employees and 76 contracts. Smith's considerable sales skills helped the company win prestigious staff feeding contracts with Selfridges and Marks & Spencer this year. Competitors made it clear that they did not like going up against BaxterSmith when bidding for contracts. One commented: "The Marks & Spencer team witnessed a particularly high level of service at one BaxterSmith contract. They thought it might be a fluke, but they found the same at three more sites." Much of the consistent quality of BaxterSmith's delivery is down to the way Smith inspires and involves his staff. It was his decision to make BaxterSmith the first company to use the talent toolbox, a training package developed by Learnpurple that gives staff being appraised the right to reply and encourages them to be pro-active and pass on their knowledge. One initiative, the chefs' forum, sees 16 senior chefs hold bi-monthly meetings to share purchasing information, menus and recipes. "No managers sit in on that forum," says Smith. "The chefs feel they have a voice in the company." This bottom-up approach gives employees a sense of empowerment and stops regional managers getting ‘bogged down' by training needs across multiple sites, says Smith.
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