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Simon James

21 September 2006

Overall ranking: 60

Foodservice ranking: 15

Simon James - Snapshot
Simon James is the managing director of Eden Foodservice, the education arm of Initial Catering Services (ICS). Its younger sister, Autograph Foodservice, was created in 2001 to target the B&I sector.

Eden is one of the top three players in the contracted-out school meals market and has an annual turnover of £40m. It employs 4,500 people and serves 25 million meals a year to 1,200 state primary and secondary schools as well as independent and higher education sites.

ICS and its two operating arms are part of the Rentokil Initial group. The education foodservice business was originally created in 1991 to support the new facilities management division of BET. Rentokil bought BET in 1996.

Simon James - Career guide
James, who was born in March 1958, started his career in 1978 with the Savoy Group in London. In 1986, he became a director of F&B at the Cunard Hotel, La Toc in St. Lucia.

He then spent nine year as company director of London recruitment agency, Portfolio International, where he was responsible for international management recruitment.

In 1998 he joined Initial Catering Services as contract director for state education in Cornwall.

James became managing director of the entire education business in September 2004.

When Simon James joined what is now known as ICS, it had grown into the UK's largest state school meals provider in just three years from start-up under the guiding hand of current ICS chief executive Jim Walker.

The business had dominated the state sector in James's new patch - Cornwall - since 1994. James quickly expanded his region and his responsibilities, playing an instrumental part in evolving school meals as best-value started to replace CCT.

The Eden Foodservice brand was launched in September 2002 to target a new market - the independent school sector.

It provided a small consolation in June 2003, when Cornwall County Council took its school meals service back in-house after nearly 10 years in the hands of ICS. ICS lost 116 schools - Eden had recently snapped up 20 independent sites.

The Eden name took on an increased importance in February 2004 when ICS decided to halt its expansion in the state sector due to concerns over the increased pension costs arising from the Government's new Workforce Code of Practice.

Eden Foodservice was relaunched to exclusively target private boarding schools and colleges while separate businesses for the state and independent sector were pooled under the Initial label.

However, by February 2005, ICS had found a way through the pension impasse and was set to re-enter the state education sector.

The market had become more challenging with the growing clamour to jettison unhealthy over-processed foods from school canteens - a call amplified by Jamie Oliver's high-profile campaign to improve the quality of school meals.

The Eden Foodservice name is now leading the group's move from old-style canteen grub to freshly-cooked, seasonal food that meets the new Government nutritional standards.

James is currently repositioning the entire school catering division towards the Eden brand and away from Initial to reflect the new menus and offer.

He has worked closely with suppliers to create new product to meet the new standards (starting work six months before their publication in June 2006) and employs a registered nutritionist to analyse menus.

He has also set up new initiatives to educate as well as nourish, including teacher training packs, nutrition presentation evenings for parents and students and interactive online resources to encourage healthy eating.

The group's decision to tender only for deals with "a sensibly-priced fresh-cook offer" led to some high-profile refusals to rebid for unviable contracts, notably in Kent and Bracknell Forest this year.

An unfortunate side-effect of the Oliver campaign has been a general drop in the uptake school meals of up to 10% at a time caterers are being asked to invest more in the sector - a trend that shaved 6.5% off ICS's turnover in 2005.

James is actively lobbying the Government to increase funding for school meals. Although it pledged an extra £220m over three years in 2005 and a further £240m between 2008 and 2011 this year, the real cost of raising standards and upgrading kitchens has been estimated at £780m.

Simon James - Further information

Eden Foodservice website

Coolmeals.co.uk website

feedingyoungminds.co.uk website

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

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