Kevin Watson talks of ‘damaging' Olympic contract at Arena event

09 December 2016 by
Kevin Watson talks of ‘damaging' Olympic contract at Arena event

Kevin Watson, managing director of Amadeus shared the highs and lows that have shaped the company over the past 40 years as he headlined the Arena Christmas event earlier this week.

Watson explained how he took the decision to replace the firm's entire senior management team three months after the ‘damaging' London Olympics contract in 2012, which lost Amadeus £7.7m.

The youngest executive board member of the NEC Group - which Amadeus is part of - said he went with his gut feeling and instinct when he chose to "cut deep and quickly".

He said: "The Olympics hurt us financially, physically and emotionally. We had three years to prepare for the Olympics but didn't use the time wisely.

"We lost a lot of money in that time and it was a huge learning curve but winning the contract got us known."

He added: "Vanity prevailed and we probably thought we were something we were not. We're still a bit bruised by it, but I'm definitely proud to have been part of it."

Watson, who started his career at Burger King, before joining Compass Group, handpicked Amadeus' new senior team, choosing individuals suited to his leadership style.

The company was previously owned by Birmingham City Council but has been privately owned for the last two years, which Watson said has been beneficial in terms of growth and investment.

With Watson at the helm, Amadeus has undergone a significant change of direction, as well as a business and cultural transformation. Today, it is one of the fastest-growing venue and event caterers.

He said: "We used to lack awareness of the market, sector and competitors. We weren't competitive; we were safe and lacked real intent and didn't understand what was next. The company was under-invested and treated like a poor cousin."

Since then around £4.3m has been spent on key areas including people, as well as an epos and stock management system to help drive sales growth.

Watson described the company as a regional caterer but said it has ambitions to go national, having now secured a number of clients outside of the NEC Group.

He said: "We're still a small player in a large pool but we are selective about who we work with. We need clients who worry about footfall. We take the idea of partnership seriously as we have got contracts wrong before."

He added: "There's no such thing as a bad mistake, as long as you only get it wrong once."

Watson said he gets approached two or three times a year by people asking if the company is up for sale. He said Amadeus adds value to the wider NEC Group and confirmed it is not up for sale. But he revealed he keeps an "acquisitions list" close to him, consisting of companies Amadeus is interested in buying.

Amadeus expects to serve 44,000 covers during December and hopes to exceed its revenue target of £50m in 2019.

The Arena Christmas Event took place at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London on 5 December.

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