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The Caterer

Phil Hooper

12 May 2005
Phil Hooper

Overall Ranking: 35

Contract caterers ranking: 7

Snapshot

Phil Hooper is the corporate affairs director at Sodexho UK and Ireland, the second largest contract caterer in the UK. He is responsible for all internal and external communications, including the company's 50,000 staff and 3,500 clients. The company, known as Gardner Merchant from 1967, changed its name in 2000 following its 1995 acquisition by Sodexho Alliance of France.

The group's food and management services encompass business and industry, education, healthcare, remote sites, old people's homes, defence, and prisons.

The UK and Ireland is Sodexho's third largest market after Continental Europe and North America and accounts for 14% of its business. The UK division increased operating profit by 35% to £19.7m in the year to 31 August 2004, although turnover dipped from £1.01b to £931m.

Career guide

Hooper, who is 50 in August 2005, gained an HND degree in hotel and catering management in 1976 before joining Gardner Merchant as a management trainee, working at the Guardian Royal Exchange in London.

A series of sales and operational roles followed, including district management for the British Gas group, senior sales manager, and operations director. By the early 1980s, Hooper was regional director for Scotland.

Hooper was sales director during the management buy-out from Forte in 1993 and was an integral part of the buy-out team. Ensuing roles included group sales director, sales and marketing director, and a spell as managing director of the business and industry division.

Around the start of the current century, Hooper moved into communication roles and rose to the role of communications director before taking on his current position in 2004.

What we think

Hooper is one of those rare animals to have spent his entire career with the same company. In fact, he has been with Sodexho for all but nine years of the company's existence since it became Gardner Merchant in 1967.

Talk then revolved around a possible flotation or a £600m-plus sale to Granada but instead, Gardner Merchant merged with Sodexho in 1995. It reigned as the UK's largest contract caterer until 2000, when its nearest rivals, Granada and Compass, merged their foodservice divisions.

The name change in 2000 to Sodexho kept Hooper busy for a year as he worked on the massive project of merging the corporate identity of the company.

Hooper's long history with the company allied to his many sales, marketing and operational roles makes him an ideal corporate affairs director. The position keeps him in touch with fellow directors, staff, clients, the media, and government affairs and also encompasses crisis management procedures.

He has had his work cut out since 2002 when the UK division was hit by financial problems that are expected to take three years to turn around. Measures to improve profitability by offering more services per site, axing unprofitable contracts, retraining site managers, exiting hotel management and standalone restaurants, and dealing direct with food suppliers have brought early signs of improvement.

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