Me&MyJob: Catering has become big business for Barry
Barry Ambrose, Account Director, Sodexo Northern Ireland
What does your job entail?
Sodexo is one of the largest food and facilities management providers in Northern Ireland. We manage on-site restaurants and an extensive range of support services like cleaning, waste management, reception and security for clients in business and industry, education, healthcare and local government.
I am the most senior representative for the company in the North with overall responsibility for managing our client business here. It involves the nurturing of long -term working relationships, negotiating client contracts and developing new business opportunities.
Is it 9am to 5pm?
It can be seven days a week at crucial times of the year, especially with some of our healthcare and public sector contracts.
At other times, I would attend meetings in our Dublin office and bring clients to corporate hospitality events in Great Britain. Outside of this, my working week is usually in line with office hours.
How did you get into this line of work?
My social life was the major factor as I didn’t want to work weekends. I had graduated from catering college in the seventies and was working in hotels. In-house contract catering, Monday to Friday with regular hours, was very appealing. But I also discovered a real liking for the business and I never left.
Outline your career to date?
I joined Gardner Merchant in 1977 which was subsequently acquired by Sodexo in the mid-nineties so I’ve been with the company 34 years this year.
My first job was chef manager, followed by relief manager and then I became assistant catering controller for our contract at Harland & Wolff in 1979.
At one point, I was responsible for the catering management of the ‘sea trials’ undertaken on all newly built ships to ensure they were fit for purpose.
Some 200 Harland and Wolff employees would be on board for the duration of each trial, which meant being at sea for up to six to eight weeks at a time. The high seas were no place to run out of sugar, so to avoid being cited as the cause of mutiny, meticulous planning was a must.
I became district manager in 1983, senior client account manager in 1990 and was promoted to my current role in 2004.
Tell us about your qualifications and training.
I left school with five GCEs and completed practical cookery qualifications including several City & Guilds Certificates in catering |college. Post-college and while working in hotels, I studied for and was awarded the National Diploma in Hotel and Catering operations. Since then I have been fortunate to participate in the many accredited internal and external training and development opportunities that Sodexo offers to its staff.
What qualities are required for your job — personal and professional.
The Sodexo business model is driven by the people that we employ so in order to manage them effectively, strong people management and communications skills are a must.
The ability to manage client relationships in a professional yet personable way is very important because the vast majority of our staff is actually based on client sites, often working face to face with their own people.
Good client relationships are built on open and honest |communication based on mutual respect and trust.
They are extremely important in delivering on their expectations and therefore retaining our services into the future.
What’s the best advice you have ever received?
The best business advice I ever got was the importance of being well prepared for client meetings, even routine ones. Be genuinely interested in their business. During meetings, it is vital to spell out the objectives that you plan to achieve to ensure you deliver a win/win for both parties.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Go walking with my beautiful wife Dawn and ugly dog! Our three children are now grown up which gives us much more time together.
We enjoy planning holidays and weekend breaks.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself
I play the trombone and competed in many band contests when I was younger, the highlight of which was the European Brass Band Championship in the Royal Albert Hall in London.
On-stage was magical — for me it was an experience probably never to be repeated!
Who has inspired you most in your life?
My parents — it’s an old cliché but in my case it’s true.
They taught me to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and not ask others to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
They encouraged me to have empathy for others, as well as have compassion and understanding, honesty and integrity in all that I do. I hope I haven’t disappointed them.