Matthew Thomas, 31, operations director at independent contract caterer Holroyd Howe, describes the sector as "exceptionally exciting" and a place where you need to be sharp and strong to survive.
These days we're increasingly competing with outlets on the high street and using more retail tricks," says Thomas. "Clients' expectations continue to rise, and while they are increasingly unlikely to accept substandard service, they have less money to spend."
Thomas describes his current role as one where he tries to innovate and stimulate, helping to pull together the team's ideas and spending a large amount of time talking to clients to find out new ways of working together - for example, collaborating on kitchen investment.
His Monday-to-Friday job will typically keep him busy 60 hours a week. He believes the ability to listen and strong interpersonal skills are a must for any operations director.
Having completed a placement in the USA and earned a degree in hospitality administration, Thomas started his career proper in November 1995 as corporate hospitality manager and regional support trainer at Granada Restaurants. He moved on to become operations manager/national account manager, food services, and was on board for the merger with Compass which created Compass Group in 2000. In December of that year he became corporate business development manager.
In 2001 he undertook a postgraduate diploma in personnel management, which required him to spend one day a week at the University of Portsmouth. "I didn't feel as well equipped as I could have been," says Thomas. "I also believe education is brilliant, as it stimulates you and gets you thinking in different ways."
It paid off, and in November of the same year Thomas became business development manager at Elior UK, covering London's City, West End and Docklands.
He joined Holroyd Howe in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, as business development manager in November 2002, winning his latest promotion this year.
"If you're planning a career in the hospitality sector, I'd advise you remain open to a job in contract catering, as working here can expose you to a whole range of useful experiences," he says.
Corporate hospitality manager and regional support trainer, Granada Restaurants.
Corporate business development manager at Compass Group
Business development manager, Holyroyd Howe
Operations director at Holroyd Howe