Gardiner's question time

26 May 2005
Gardiner's question time

JD Caroline, I am interested to understand how you found yourself, in such a short time, managing director of Directors Table for Sodexho? CG As you know, I joined Sodexho in July 2004 in a global corporate account sales role and enjoyed immensely the challenges that this brought but, when the opportunity came up at Directors Table, it was exactly what I was looking for. It combines my love of operations with direct client interface and a strong relationship with my team.

JD I would have thought that joining Sodexho after such a difficult period, reported widely in the press, would have been a challenging task. CG You are right, but Philip Jansen, our new chief executive, has inspired the whole organisation, and I am clear that there is only one direction that our business will now take - and that is up. We have not been good at delivering and explaining the benefits of our organisation, and I see marketing and profile-raising as one of my main challenges over the next months.

JD Sodexho has had a bad press recently. Do you think it is justified? CG There is no doubt that many column inches have been written about Sodexho but, like any business that experiences changes, these are often magnified and expanded on, as the victim is seen as an easy target. The positive things about Sodexho don't make the news. However, our organisation is robust, dynamic and very capable of change, which we are now delivering and, as I have previously said, we are back to focusing on what we are good at and recognised for.

JD Turning to your previous role with Compass Group [Gardiner was with Compass for 15 years, including three as managing director of Baxter & Platts], it was surprising to see you move on after a strong career with the group. Why? CG At the time I felt that the relationships that are so important to me as part of my working day were not where I felt they should be. I need to feel that my role, work and perspective is welcomed and encouraged, and I believe there comes a time with any organisation when this is just not the case. It was time for a change. I also wanted to take a sabbatical to spend some time with my daughter. I was very happy with Compass Group and would thank them for the opportunities and support they have always given me. I would not be where I am today without the mentoring of people within the organisation.

JD Turning to the future, then. What will Caroline Gardiner do for Directors Table? CG I believe that one of my greatest strengths is my enthusiastic leadership. I have a great team, with whom I intend to develop our business and to reinforce Directors Table's position as one of the finest providers of food service in the country. The organisation is both supportive of this and also aware of the competition, ever-evolving marketplace and other challenges that we face.

JD I assume you mean your purchasing? CG Yes and no. Purchasing is one of the issues that all contract caterers are dealing with, and we have had some historical issues regarding transparency. We recognise that our clients require a much more transparent relationship and competitive purchasing. However, I think it is also worth pointing out that we are far more competitive. More often than not one also has to look at the quality and specification of products, and the probity of supply, to make a real comparison.

JD I had the pleasure of meeting Anton Edelmann (pictured above, right) again recently, and I would be interested to know what he is doing with your business. CG Anton has been an inspiration for all of our craft team, dedicated full-time to Directors Table, developing Allium and our fine-dining operations. His skill and humour, as well as huge experience, have sharpened our delivery to our clients, brought a greater understanding and expertise to our most prestigious events and developed an even stronger learning culture in our business. We are very proud of the positive impact that has been made on our business by Anton and hope that it will continue. He is, after all, my "right hand" in Directors Table.

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