While I had worked in the hospitality industry since I was young—first in Austria then coming here to Australia—my catering career really began in 1979 when I took up the position of catering manager with SHRM in Western Australia. Then in 1985 I joined M&Cs Management & Consulting Services and for seven years I became the client. When I went back into the contract catering industry having seen both sides, I knew what was important for the client and what was important for the consumer. It was one of the defining moments in my career—it gave me a huge insight and really helped me to grow personally and to adapt to a new way of operating.
In all organisations it’s about having the right people in the right job. At Compass our employees have to have a passion for food and passion for service to clients. People who choose their careers in this industry are often very individualistic and creative, which can be a challenge in the way you manage them.
Being connected with the coalface is very important. Giving people recognition and providing an environment for innovation is essential for them to develop further. At the same time, we try to give employees a sense of belonging and pride in our company. I needed to do this in order to keep them in what was a challenging labour market and very importantly, to avoid disruption by third parties like unions.
To maintain quality across the group, you have to have passion for what you do. You need to have a committed team and to have dedicated suppliers, and you have to have the support of your family. I was lucky to have all of those.
When you manage multiple sites, you have to have people management skills in order to bring teams together. I was in the fortunate position that I had all senior managers across the Pacific committed and focused to our vision. That was the single most compelling reason for our success. Our executive team are all experts in their field, but every one of them needed to be managed differently. You can’t put in a blanket order and say ‘talk to everyone the same way’.
As important as having the right management team
is having suppliers on board who support us in our business. We created a well-resourced supply chain team. They established a preferred supplier base, which we trust as our business partners. They have to pass stringent tests and audits and are constantly assessed. The key is the total alignment in planning and actions between our internal and external suppliers for the support of our sites.
Then there is the service delivery. You might have done everything right but if you failed at this last hurdle, then all the good work that was done before is wasted.
Having such a huge geographic spread and over 600 sites, good systems and procedures are essential. I was involved in creating the procedures and actively participated in conveying very clear guidelines from our management teams down to the employees on sites who are actually delivering the services daily. But what you can’t measure you can’t manage. Auditing compliance to the procedures regularly is important. My underpinning philosophy has been that nothing should get in the way of a great experience to our clients and consumers.
We also really had to adapt to the business philosophy of our clients and assist them in promoting it. Our practice in remote-area catering is an example. People in the remote areas spend more time in our care than they spend at home, so wellness and lifestyle factors are very important. We were one of the first in the sector to employ dedicated dieticians. Later we also realised we had an issue on the sites with obesity. So in addition to our menus, we put nutrition and lifestyle co-ordinators on those sites. We now have dedicated teams who are running sports programs, managing the gymnasium and organising social activities in order to keep people away from alcohol and binge eating.