The chairman of CH&Co Group talks to Katey Pigden about life post-merger and his recent award from the Institute of Directors
I was surprised and humbled when they announced my name. I was delighted just to be shortlisted for the Director of the Year for a company with a turnover of £100m to£299m at the London and South East Institute of Directors Awards. It's wonderful to receive recognition from peers, but I'm also very firm in my belief that it's recognition for the whole team that has helped us develop our company.
The merger has progressed very well and our integration is more or less complete. Thankfully our cultures were similar and today, it genuinely feels like one team behind one goal. Our clients have been very supportive too, which is always reassuring. Of course, good, regular communications with all parties also helped. Integrating our systems and procedures has probably been the biggest challenge because we've taken the best from each company to create something better, but it's now almost done and we're in a good place.
Our numbers stacked up and were suitably ambitious and achievable. The banks believed in our team and our service offer. The fact that so many of the original shareholders continued to invest in the new group also helped demonstrate our confidence in the future.
Our stated aim is to grow the business to a £300m-turnover company in the next two to four years. Much will come from organic growth, but we've never made a secret of our willingness to look at appropriate merger and acquisition opportunities, provided they add value to our portfolio and help us maintain our position as the leading quality caterer. We've said from the outset that our brands will be around for as long as clients want them. There are no plans to change any of them but, like every company, we review our strategies regularly.
Uncertainty is one of the key challenges facing the hospitality industry, because it has an impact on client and consumer spend.
Another challenge is the National Living Wage. We're very supportive of it, but for low-margin businesses like contract caterers, you can't underestimate the challenge it poses, especially as the rates increase in the coming years - this will have knock-on implications for pay differentials for more senior grades of staff.
Twenty-five years ago when we started Charlton House, there was a gulf in quality in the staff restaurant and school sectors. Since then, the market has become much more competitive and regulated, but more responsive and innovative, too. Quality, variety, marketing and innovation have all improved, and the speed of change has become much quicker.
I don't have a typical day any more. Since becoming non-executive chairman post-merger, I don't work every day, so my average days have gone from being totally focused on CH&Co to having more time to deal with other issues and organisations close to my heart. For example, I'm now a trustee of Hospitality Action and I sit on their finance board. The other interesting aspect to my days now is that I am really enjoying working with Bill Toner, our chief executive, Madeleine Musselwhite, our chief finance officer, and MML Capital, our investor partners. I'm dealing with new challenges and new management styles and that makes things interesting.
My late wife and business partner Robyn has undoubtedly been my biggest inspiration. Her tenacity, drive and eye for detail and quality have been a major factor in our success and so many people learned from her over the years.
Post-university, I joined PwC and trained as an accountant. I joined Marvel Comics in 1986 as their financial controller and we experienced rapid growth in the four years I was there. In 1990, I became group finance director of RWS Group, one of Europe's largest technical translation companies, and I was there for 10 years, but for most of those I was working with Robyn on Charlton House, which we set up in 1991.
I've also been lucky to be involved in a number of other companies, varying from a business services group to an adult learning company and a design and marketing agency. It's been broad experience, but it has all helped me achieve my career.
In my spare time I enjoy golf, cycling and music. I also love spending time with my son and daughter, who are now finishing school and university respectively. We love to travel together and try to take one long-haul trip a year and also spend as much time as we can in Tuscany in Italy.
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