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Michelle Hanson

21 September 2006

Overall ranking: 85

Contract caterer ranking: 16

Michelle Hanson is the managing director of Sodexho Education, responsible for catering contracts in state schools, independent schools and further and higher education.

She is also managing director of Tillery Vallery Foods, a leading South Wales-based supplier of chilled and frozen prepared meals to the healthcare sector.

Sodexho (formerly Gardner Merchant) is the second largest player in the £3.865b UK contract catering market and provides food and management services to business and industry, education, healthcare, remote sites, old people's homes, defence, and prisons.

The company, which employs around 48,000 staff across 2,300 clients, is owned by the Sodexho Alliance of France, an €11.7b-turnover business with more than 480,000 staff across 23,900 sites in 76 countries.

The UK and Ireland is Sodexho's third largest market after Continental Europe and North America and accounts for around 11% of its business. In the year to August 2005, it reported sales of €1.3b and earnings before interest, tax and amortisation of €27m, representing falls of 3.6% and 4.8% respectively.

Michelle Hanson - Career guide
Michelle Hanson, who was born in 1962, joined Trusthouse Forte in 1979 on a five-year management apprenticeship, before joining Gardner Merchant as a district manager in London.

She progressed through a number of roles that have included operations director, regional director, divisional director and national quality and training executive for the UK.

Hanson became managing director of Tillery Valley Foods (based in Abertillery, South Wales) in 1997, a year after its acquisition. She retained this role when she became managing director of Sodexho Education during the creation of the School Meal Review Panel's Turning the tables - improving school meals report, which was finally published in October 2005.

Michelle Hanson - What we think
Michelle Hanson is in charge of a division that has clocked up more than 50 year's experience in its sector. Sodexho Education today employs more than 5,000 staff and orovides catering services to some 1,000 educational establishments across the UK.

She also oversees the 430-plus staff at Tillery Valley Foods, which has built up a wide client base in the NHS, private healthcare, education and private sectors.

The education sector, which accounts for 23% of the total UK contract catering market, has had a torrid few years in the wake of Jamie Oliver's high-profile campaign to improve the quality of school meals.

The adverse publicity led to drops of up to 10% in school meal uptake in certain areas across the industry, according to the Local Authority Caterers' Association.

On the plus side, it seemed to spur the Government into pledging to boost central funding by £220m over three years, followed by promises in late 2006 of a further £240m spend on school meals between 2008 and 2011.

However, this seemed cold comfort when the School Meals Review Panel estimated that the real figure needed to raise nutritional standards and upgrade kitchen equipment was closer to £780m.

Sodexho, in common with arch-rival Compass, elected in March 2005 to increase the minimum ingredient spend per head from 25p to 55p - a strategy that left many councils unable to attract any bids for their contracts.

Hanson has been responsible for Sodexho's drive to introduce healthy yet appealing school meals to meet the Government's more stringent nutrient-based food standards ahead of the September 2006 deadline.

Since April 2006, she has headed a wide-ranging review of Sodexho's education strategy.

"We are looking at how we can best allocate our resources and where we can have good partnerships with clients," Hanson told Caterer in June, when the review was half complete. "Contracts vary greatly from authority to authority but they need to be financially viable and put a priority on healthy tasty food."

However, in June this year (halfway through the review) Sodexho chief executive Philip Jansen indicated that any conclusions would have to wait until it becomes clearer how new standards will be implemented and funded.

Despite all this turmoil, 2006 has proved a successful year for Sodexho Education which has won more than £63m-worth of new and retained business.

Hanson (who was a winner of one of the first-ever Acorns in 1986 when the awards began) holds an MSc in Hospitality and Catering and chairs the Sodexho Pension Fund.

Michelle Hanson - Further information

Sodexho profile on CatererSearch

Sodexho official website

Read more about the CatererSearch 100, the list of the most influential people here

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