I’ve just met Group Managing Director of Compass Group UK & Ireland, Ian El-Mokadem at Compass HQ in Uxbridge. Over lunch, Ian (known affectionately as Elmo around the industry) shared his views on People 1st, school meals reform and his vision for the future of the UK’s largest foodservice operator.
On People 1st
Elmo said he was supportive of any attempt to simplify the training landscape, but said “I just don’t understand what the Dickens [People 1st] are doing. In a year of doing this job, I haven’t spoken to them, and haven’t seen their agenda very clearly” – this, from a man whose office is a mile down the road from People 1st’s offices.
So, can the Skills Passport work?
“If we and other big players say ‘yes’, it’s going to get critical mass – but I wouldn’t put money on it working.”
On Strengthening Compass UK’s client offering
If clients ask, ‘why do business with Compass?’, Elmo answers that, as well as being empowered to offer their own sector expertise, his various divisions can draw on the strength and depth of the organisation as a whole. To back up this claim, work is going on to strengthen support functions such as IT, training, health and safety and product development. He calls this approach “freedom in a framework”. His vision is of a truly joined-up business, proud of its diversity but with all self-imposed barriers knocked down. To achieve this, he needs to create a sense of teamwork and shared focus. Elmo oversees around 7000 sites, employing some 70,000 employees, so the ongoing task of applying and communicating a core set of company values is a complex but crucial one.
Elmo holds up the recent rationalising of the group’s fine dining divisions into a single division, Restaurant Associates, as an example of the sort of rethinking planned for other parts of the business. In B&I division Eurest, this will mean realigning the offering and organisational structure to address the challenge of being more retail-savvy and more informed by the increasingly “grab and go” nature of high street dining.
Ongoing restructuring extends to the group’s supply chain, which currently encompasses around 9000 products, plus other produce sourced at the local level. Plans are afoot to rationalise the chain and create procurement efficiencies across the group. And chefs are being encouraged to get more involved in the procurement process.
“They should have an involvement at the beginning and the end of every procurement decision”, said Elmo.
On School meals standards
Elmo’s message to the government mandarins responsible for school food guidelines was: “job done, guys!” In other words, nutritional standards have successfully opened a national debate on the standard of school meals, but the time has come to stop regulating. In particular, he feels the forthcoming ban on cakes and other confectionery at breaktime could have the opposite effect to the one desired, as more children bring snacks in to school with them, and more catering companies cut their losses and withdraw from schools.