The Arena Face2Face with Alastair Stewart is a key date in the hospitality diary and has seen some of the most influential figures in the industry put through their paces by one of ITV’s most highly regarded newsreaders. This year it was the turn of Matthew Brabin, CEO of ISS UK & Ireland. Held at The Berkeley; a stunning new venue for Arena; the proceedings began with the obligatory bubbles (along with samples from sponsors Costa Coffee and Britvic) and networking, followed by a delicious three course menu from the team at The Berkeley. Then it was onto the main event, the ‘Face2Face’ interview.

Prior to G4S’s failed take-over bid for them in 2011, ISS was perhaps the largest company nobody had ever heard of. With 46,000 employees in the UK & Ireland and 500,000 worldwide, they are mammoth in the world of facilities management, offering a range of services, including of course catering, as well as cleaning, security, engineering and much more. The events of 2011 didn’t result in a take-over by G4S in the end, but what it did do for the company was help identify where their strengths and weaknesses lay. As far as strengths their breadth of services, ability to deliver excellent service levels ‘with a human touch’ and their focus on rewarding employees (they were early adopters of the National Living Wage) to ensure they attract the best and the brightest in a competitive market (especially post Brexit) set them apart. However, their weaknesses included a failure to deliver strong succession planning and the low profile of the brand. In the intervening years they have addressed these issues and are now confident that although they may not be the highest profile FM provider, they have come on leaps and bounds and are known to offer a great service in their space and have focused their identity removing a number of legacy brands from previous acquisitions to clarify their brand offer.

As well as giving us a more personal insight into the man himself whose parents (both teachers) encouraged him to focus on the figures, which led him into the field of accountancy and systems management, the interview touched on several hot topics; Brexit – Matthew was confident that Brexit will be negotiated in order to avoid a labour crisis in the contract catering world; responsible menu choices – of which ISS are a great proponent, keen to feed school children the nutrition they need to thrive (one example quoted was offering bowls of carrot batons to snack on in the queue line) as well as helping patients recover quicker in healthcare with the right nourishment; education – even offering vegetable patches in schools so children can see where their carrots come from; technology – where they have been partnering worldwide with IBM to help shape the future of their service offer; and of course the rise of delivery – which along with the ever present competition from the high street they strive to counter on a daily basis.

So Matthew, having started out as a figures man, is now far more of a foodie, and recognises the very visual and emotional pull of the catering side of the business which has the ability to engage prospective clients far more than security and cleaning (unsurprisingly). With a few interesting questions thrown in from CH&Co (one of their competitors) as well as a logistics supplier looking to work more closley with the business, it was then onto coffee and the prize draw which raised a fabulous £1,070 for Hospitality Action and Springboard. As the afternoon wore on the hard-core headed to the bar, whilst others returned to their offices far better informed on the world of ISS. Well done to Lorraine and her team on another great event, we look forward to the Christmas lunch!

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