Meet the former winners of the Acorn Scholarship

04 October 2007 by
Meet the former winners of the Acorn Scholarship

Do you have a burning ambition to succeed in the hospitality industry? Then the Acorn Scholarship could help you realise your dreams.

The scholarship - developed by Oak, a group of previous winners of Caterer and Hotelkeeper‘s Acorn Awards - is designed to seek out individuals in the catering and hospitality industry whose potential has yet to be realised.

The scholarship, now entering its seventh year, has already given several people the boost they needed to achieve their dreams and is looking to do the same again in 2008.

Here we talk to three of the five scholars who have seen the affects it can have on a career…

Naime Torgut
Naime Torgut
Naime Torgut

Director, the Aspiration Group
Acorn Scholarship winner 2005
Naime Torgut was senior events manager at the Belfry Hotel in the West Midlands when she entered for the Acorn Scholarship. For the judges, it was obvious that Torgut was an excellent candidate. Glowing reports from satisfied customers of the Belfry backed up a strong, focused and determined presentation.

For winning the scholarship, the senior event manager received a study trip to the USA, courtesy of Aramark, to learn about the company's human resources operation a trip to Luxembourg to visit the Villeroy & Boch factory mentoring from recruitment specialist Learnpurple and a £5,000 bursary to help her chase her dream.

So what was that dream? "I just told the judges that I wanted to be the best I could," Torgut says. "My presentation was very general and it was entitled ‘Reach for the Stars', as that's what I strive to do."

After winning the scholarship, Torgut went on to join event and leisure management company The Aspiration Group. What did she learn from her Acorn Scholarship success that helped with this career progression? "The networking is fantastic - you build up great contacts and you learn so much from them," she says. "And the mentoring is great. I had Sean Wheeler of the Malmaison Group as my mentor and he taught me so much: the importance of charisma in this industry to acknowledge the skills I had and what it takes to be a success."

So Torgut is reaching for the stars - and when she gets there it'll be fairly obvious, she says. "We're all part shareholders in this company, so if we do the best we can we could be retired in 10 years' time, relaxing on a yacht in the Caribbean."

Julie Lardie
Julie Lardie
Julie Lardie

Corporate dietitian, Aramark
Acorn Scholarship winner 2007

Julie Lardie made history last year, when she became the first Acorn Scholarship winner from outside the hotel industry. Lardie, who was - and still is - working as a dietitian for contract caterer Aramark, was more surprised than anybody when the judges called out her name. "When Michael Caines stood up to announce the winner and said the committee had decided to award it to an unusual area of catering I was totally unprepared," she says. "It was the best thing that has happened in my career to date."

Julie originally tried for the scholarship on the advice of one of her colleagues, who helped her put the application together. "It took ages to prepare but was a really worthwhile exercise. The process of summing up what it was I wanted to do with my life gave me tremendous focus," she says.

A year later, Julie is still in the same job, but says everything has changed as a result of the scholarship. The biggest difference is that, in a massive company such as Aramark, people now know and understand what it is she does. "When I won, our chief executive e-mailed everyone in the company to tell them, and he did it again when I was featured in Caterer a couple of weeks later."

As well as earning respect and recognition, Julie has also advanced her knowledge and skills by taking a Professional Certificate in Management through the Open University, funded by her prize-money. "I really love my job at the moment but I don't want to be just a dietitian for ever," she says. "In the future I want to be someone who is capable of operating a business and who truly understands the bigger picture of catering."

Jon Reed
Jon Reed
Jon Reed, winner of the 2004 Acorn Scholarship

What were you doing before the scholarship?

I had studied for a degree in hospitality and tourism management at City College Norwich's superb hotel school and was enjoying my first "real job" working as a restaurant manager with Marriott. Before reading about the Acorn Scholarship I had never even thought about awards or accolades, but working with great people in Marriott gave me the confidence that I could achieve anything in this industry.

What made you want to apply?

I was young, enthusiastic and career hungry. I saw the Acorn Scholarship as a superb way to learn and also to meet key industry people. Seeing the list of organisations and people associated with the scholarship was a real incentive to apply. Just the opportunity to "sell' myself in front of a panel of industry leaders, such as Michael Caines and William Baxter, and receive their feedback was a great experience. Since winning I have enjoyed lots of excellent events and witnessed at first hand the work hard-play hard ethic we have in the industry.

How did it feel to win?

To this day it is my greatest career achievement. There is only one Acorn scholar chosen each year, so wining is a major accomplishment. I received fantastic mentoring and development, had a lot of new experiences and grew my network beyond belief. I am delighted to be organising the scholarship this year.

What are the benefits of winning?

The Acorn Scholarship launched my career and has had a huge impact on the careers of our five scholars. Winning the scholarship really did bring me more opportunities. Having a business coach at the age of 23 was also an incredible bonus. This year the winner will have their own development lunch in January where our supporters and judges will help in designing a tailored development for the year.

How has your career changed since winning?

The Acorn Scholarship has provided me with an excellent platform for my career. I've been working with Learnpurple for three years and I've progressed quickly. I've even gone on to win an Acorn Award and a HCPTA award. Also I'm lucky to be involved in a number of different industry initiatives and committees.

What are your ambitions?

My goal is to own my own hotel and this ambition is much closer now than it was before winning the Acorn Scholarship.

How to enter…

The Acorn Scholarship is a self-nominated award (although you must have the backing of your employer) and is open to individuals who are UK residents or able to work in the UK without restriction.

To apply, send in a written application with information on your chosen career - and what your dream is within hospitality - and answer these questions in no more than 1,000 words:

  • Why have you chosen this dream/ambition?
  • How have you identified the support, training or experience that you will need?
  • What have you done so far in working towards your dream?
  • How will you benefit from winning the Acorn Scholarship and what would it mean to you?
  • How would you use your scholarship to give something back to the industry?

Include your name, address, e-mail address, contact numbers, date of birth, occupation, current employer and contact details.

If you are selected as a finalist, you will need to make a 10-minute presentation on your dream/ambition on 8 November at Malmaison in London and attend the presentation lunch on 30 November 2007 at Abode Hotel in Canterbury, when the winner will be announced.

The deadline for entries is 17 October. Send your application to or post to Sam Lashmar, Acorn Scholarship, 12 Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 9EF.

TagsAwards and Careers
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