Top seeds

Thursday 27th April 2000 00:00

If there's one thing the list of Acorn winners demonstrates it's the sheer range and diversity of jobs and careers in the hospitality industry. It names 30 young people, each with different roles and skills, and responsibilities that span every field.

Hotels, restaurants, contract caterers and pubs are all represented. From events manager Jonathan Attwood to head chef Greig Barnes via director of sales Teresa Hatton almost every aspect of hospitality is touched upon.

"The quality was quite brilliant," says judge Charlotte Vickers, banqueting manager at the Dorchester and former Acorn winner. "The discussions during the judging got quite heated.

"When I got back from the judging, I sat down with the list of winners and counted the number of men, the number of women, how many from hotels, how many from restaurants, and found that without thinking about it we'd picked a really even spread."

Vickers highlights in particular the appearance on the list of IT specialists such as 25-year-old Gareth Gaston, UK director of distribution at Hilton, and personnel and training expert Samantha Quail, again from Hilton. The recognition of the importance of these less obvious roles is welcome, according to the judges.

But the standard of experience and skill from people still so young amazed the judges, even Vickers, who won her Acorn in 1996.

"It's scary, it really is," she says. "Paula Masson is 22 years old, and to see what she's achieved is amazing; and Stuart Procter is a hotel general manager at 24 years old - the quality of these winners is almost humbling."

There is a common thread going through all 30 Acorn winners. "Ambition," declares Vickers. "They're not afraid to pick what they want and go after it. They have the drive to go out and get what they want and not wait for people to offer it to them."

Jason Atherton

Aged 28, executive head chef

Cuisine Collection

Self-nominated

It's a testament to Atherton's abilities in cooking and business that he can run the three Vinopolis City of Wine restaurants almost as a sideline to his "day job". As executive head chef at Frith Street restaurant in London he has not only set a high standard for its cuisine but has also had a significant effect on the company's profitability - increasing the gross profit by 20%.

Atherton is originally from Skegness, but started his career in the Army Catering Corps in Aldershot when he was just 16. "I absolutely hated it," he says. "All the discipline, the hard work and the long hours, all of which quite ironically go hand in hand with the craft I now love."

But his opinions changed, and by the time he was 17 he had talked his way in to a job at Boyds restaurant in London's Kensington Church Street. Since then, the teenager who hated cooking has gone on to work under Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis, Marco Pierre White and Oliver Peyton.

But he isn't complacent, Frith Street is relocating at the end of May, and there is further expansion planned at Vinopolis. Winning an Acorn, however, is the icing on the cake.

"I'm absolutely over the moon about it, I've bought the Caterer since I was 16 and have got every copy since then," he says. "I love the industry so much that to get this kind of recognition can only help me continue in it."

Jonathan Attwood

Aged 27, events manager

Bluebird 2 You, Chelsea, London

Nominated by Remy Lyse, general manager, the Bluebird Store, Chelsea, London

As part of the well-known Conran-owned Bluebird restaurant, Bluebird 2 You, the eaterie's outside catering division, seemed destined for automatic success. But, according to its general manager (and Acorn nominator) Remy Lyse, it was Jonathan Attwood who "through hard work, dedication and commitment turned a concept into reality".

He continues: "Bluebird 2 You has had an outstanding and growing reputation, which has developed thanks to Jonathan's business knowledge, determination and innovative ideas."

It was from training at Leith's and while working for London-based outside catering firm Lorna Wing from February 1997 to March 1999 that Attwood's skills in the sector were honed.

"With Leith's I was accelerated through the training programme, and on joining Lorna Wing I learnt a lot about paying attention to detail on all aspects of the business. Working with Lorna was also more party-based, because she has many high-profile clients in the fashion and media world," he says.

Two of his most challenging high-profile events with Wing were organising the BBC Good Food Awards dinner and the Moât & Chandon fashion tribute to designer Vivienne Westwood.

For the future, he hopes to expand on what he has already done with Bluebird 2 You and make it a leading force in outside catering.

Greig Barnes

Aged 29, head chef

The Spread Eagle, Sawley, Lancashire

Nominated by Steven Doherty, proprietor Lakeland Traditional Taverns, Crosthwaite, Cumbria

"Greig has helped establish my business as one of the industry's leaders in less than two years, proving that, given the right working environment, a keen, talented and naturally enthusiastic individual can flourish as an example to his craft." This statement from Barnes's nominator and boss, Steven Doherty, shows just how vital he is to the Lancashire restaurant.

The Spread Eagle is only Barnes's second head chef position, but he has made the restaurant his own. In the 18 months since he started he has been awarded two AA rosettes, a Michelin Red M, Lancashire Life's Restaurant of the Year 2000 and has seen the Spread Eagle listed in Harden's Top UK Restaurants.

But cooking isn't his only skill. Since he started, Barnes has had zero staff turnover in the kitchen and his desire to give students a chance in a working kitchen has led to strong ties with many local colleges as well as Bournemouth University.

But Barnes is modest about his achievements. "All I'm doing is what I'm employed to do," he says. "I had no idea I'd been nominated. But it's nice to get recognised for what you do."

Tahlita Bon

Aged 26, resident manager

Principal Hotels - the Park Hotel, Amsterdam

Nominated by Suzanne Hall, marketing manager, Principal Hotels, Harrogate

Winning an Acorn Award nearly came as an insult to Tahlita Bon. She laughs when telling the story that the word acorn actually has two meanings in Dutch. "A colleague translated it as meaning 'stupid person', so to begin with I wasn't sure about winning. But then I thought the managing director of Principal Hotels wouldn't have sent me a congratulatory bouquet. So I soon realised what it was and I was really pleased."

Language barrier aside, Bon says there is very little difference between working in hotels in Holland and Britain. She says: "All our hotels in the group have the same standards. Of course, some laws do differ, such as staff and labour."

Having worked her way from a trainee in a front office at a hotel in France, Bon became Amsterdam's youngest rooms division manager in the four-star hotel market, at the Park Hotel.

She was just promoted in January to her present position of resident manager, where she looks after the hotel's 187 bedrooms, nine conference rooms (holding a maximum of 150 delegates) and two food and beverage outlets; but her aim for the future is eventually to become a general manager.

Matthew Byram

Aged 29, general manager

Travel Inn, Tower Bridge, London

Nominated by Ian Pennell, regional manager, Travel Inn

"A bright star for the future", according to his nominator, Byram is, perhaps, the epitome of what the Acorn Awards are all about: showing that coping with difficult circumstances is just as praiseworthy as maintaining good ones.

He was thrown in at the deep end after just two years with Whitbread when, in 1998, he became general manager of the Derby Travel Inn, renowned as a difficult Travel Inn to manage, because of its awkward location.

But Byram and his team of three managers and 35 staff delivered sales, occupancy and profit targets with ease.

And Derby Travel Inn achieved the highest-ever score in an employee opinion survey, with an overall job satisfaction rating of 100%.

The Travel Inn at Tower Bridge, Byram's current posting, opened in June last year - the first to open at 100% occupancy on the first day. Byram was also the relief manager at the London Gatwick Airport Travel Inn until December 1999, a hotel twice the size he was used to.

"Tower Bridge has been a real success story for me. We've got a great team there and we're doing really well," he says. "I'm delighted about winning an Acorn. I wasn't even aware I'd been nominated this year, so it was a really nice surprise."

Byram is also now a familiar figure at company assessment centres, careers fairs and college open days, sharing his successes with others and showing the careers hospitality can provide.

Dawn Divilly

Aged 27, integration project manager

Whitbread Hotel Company, Wygrove, Luton

Nominated by Alan Parker, managing director, Whitbread Hotel Company

Dawn Divilly made a good start with her hospitality career. She was only the fifth person to gain a first class honours degree in hotel and catering management from the Galway Hotel and Catering School in Ireland.

After graduating, Divilly joined the Whitbread Hotel Company six years ago as a graduate trainee and has risen to the position of integration project manager, overseeing the conversion of 30 Swallow hotels to Marriott. Through this she is in charge of a team of five BAM ("becoming a Marriott") staff dedicated to the conversion of the hotels.

Divilly's enthusiasm about the project is obvious. "I love the job. For one reason, because it's the largest acquisition Whitbread Plc has ever made. It's quite a challenge converting the Swallows to Marriotts, and I'm really pleased to be part of it."

Although she has her feet firmly on the ground, Divilly admits to being ambitious. "I see myself as a future general manager in the short term, a director as soon as possible and a managing director in the long term," she says.

Mark Emmerson

Aged 28, deputy general catering manager

The Hurlingham Club, London

Nominated by Paul Covell, chief executive, the Hurlingham Club

Mark Emmerson's ultimate career aim is to be the secretary of a private members' club, and he has spent his entire career so far in that unique world.

Starting at the City of London Club in 1992 as a trainee manager, he joined the Hurlingham Club as deputy banqueting manager in 1997 and was promoted to food and beverage manager in 1998 and to his current position at the beginning of this year.

Emmerson has particular responsibility for operations and heads up a team of five managers reporting to the general catering manager, Mark Little.

On paper his achievements are impressive - in the club's last financial year he was part of the team which beat its sales targets by more than £100,000 and improved the food, liquor and wage figures resulting in a surplus that was £400,000 better than budget.

He is also particularly responsible for training, controlling a £30,000 budget and handling supplier contract negotiations and other special projects.

But, as far as his nominator is concerned, it is Emmerson's people skills that are second to none. "His day-to-day contact with club members has helped him to develop his skills of diplomacy and self-confidence," explains Paul Covell. "He has the ability to make members feel cared for and valued, which is essential in his chosen profession."

Rebecca Fraser

Aged 29, general manager

Auchterarder House hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland

Nominated by James Thomson, proprietor, the Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh

Snatching a hotel from the jaws of receivership, turning round its image and establishing it as "one of the very top hotels in Scotland", is no easy feat. But it was a challenge Rebecca Fraser rose to in her previous position with the Howard and 36 Restaurant, Edinburgh.

Boosting business is a magic knack she has brought with her to the 15-bedroom Auchterarder House hotel, in Perthshire, which she joined last July. Since then she has set about changing the image of the hotel. "I really want to spend a long time getting Auchterarder sorted out. So far we have had a lot of positive feedback. At the moment I am going to concentrate on the marketing and bringing the occupancy rate up. It's going to be an eight- to 10-year job. Eventually, I want the hotel to be up there with Scotland's best," says Fraser.

She believes the industry was in her blood from the beginning. "My uncle was a sous chef at the Savoy, London, and I knew the industry was for me after working on the Royal Scotsman train for 10 weeks during my first summer at university. I dropped out and haven't looked back since."

Giles Fry

Aged 29, general manager

TGI Friday's, Haymarket, London

Nominated by Phil Broad, managing director, TGI Friday's

It says a lot for TGI Friday's confidence, and his ability, that Fry was the first manager to be taken on by Friday's straight from university.

That was back in 1994. And now that belief has paid off, as he is general manager of the Haymarket outlet, the busiest TGI Friday's in the world for the past six years, with average weekly sales of £110,000.

He also managed the opening of the Bluewater site in north-west Kent, the first in a shopping centre, and before that, the Enfield and High Wycombe outlets. In all four sites he has broken the annual and weekly sales records and smashed booking records at peak periods.

New initiatives in each location have led to a fall in staff turnover, and on six occasions his restaurants have scored 100% in mystery diner surveys.

The Bluewater outlet he set up is currently the second most profitable in the company after, of course, his present site in Haymarket.

Gareth Gaston

Aged 25, director of distribution UK

Hilton International, Watford

Nominated by Anthony Harris, chief operating officer, Hilton UK

Technology is the key to Gareth Gaston's success. Not only was he the force behind the development of the Web site at Stakis - which he joined in 1996, prior to the group being bought by Hilton - but he is also making a major contribution to Hilton's Web site, Hilton.com , and its digital TV and mobile phone systems.

One of his key achievements to date has been the successful integration of the reservations and distribution systems between Stakis and Hilton, as well as setting up a new leisure Web site called Escape Aways for the Hilton Web site.

Gaston has also become a central player on many steering groups, such as e-commerce, global selling strategy, and rate rationalisation and pricing, while still finding time to support the sales function by meeting the hotel's clients. This is all on top of managing a team of two and being responsible for £25m revenue.

Having many different challenges is exactly what Gaston likes. "I enjoy having a lot of variation in my job, because I wouldn't want to do just one discipline. Variation also means getting a holistic view of the industry which, I hope, will eventually set me up for my dream of eventually being a managing director."

Paul Goodale

Aged 28, assistant food and beverage manager

Great Eastern hotel, London

Nominated by Simon Wright, executive manager, Great Eastern hotel, London

Paul Goodale had two ambitions in life, one to win an Acorn Award and the other to run the London Marathon and - typical of someone who has squeezed a lot of experience into a short career - he managed to achieve both dreams on the same day.

Goodale went straight from university to his first position as assistant stewarding manager at the Hyatt Carlton Tower, controlling a budget of £1m and more than 20 staff. His rise through the ranks at that hotel included stints as cost controller, where he introduced the first PC-based accounting system and reduced shrinkage from 16% of closing inventory to 2%.

From there to room service, stewarding and clubroom manager where he lowered staff turnover from 48% in 1996 to 5% in 1998 and increased departmental revenues by 20%.

But it was his move to the Great Eastern for its opening last year that led to this award. Working with the executive assistant manager, he is jointly responsible for all aspects of the hotel's restaurant division, the Aurora, Terminus and the private GE Club, as well as three other openings expected this year.

The division employs 300 staff and its revenue for this year is forecast at £16m.

"It's fantastic," says Goodale, when asked what the Acorn means to him. "I've always read about the awards since I was at hotel school, and to get one is great. People take them very seriously, and it can only help my profile."

Richard Green

Aged 28, catering manager

Sutcliffe Catering, Kraft Foods International, Brentford, Middlesex

Nominated by Anne Franklin, operations director, Sutcliffe Catering, London

Richard Green proves that you can begin at the bottom and work your way up to success.

Starting as commis chef straight from college in 1991, Green is now unit manager of Kraft Jacob Suchard International. During the past nine years he progressed from commis, to chef de partie, and from directors' chef to head chef in four years at Glaxo Wellcome's headquarters in Greenford, Middlesex.

In his present position Green is responsible for opening a new head-office contract with an annual turnover of £250,000. This has involved training staff and developing services in new areas.

"Having the experience of working as a head chef and then moving into management was how I wanted to progress my career. Knowing about both worlds is good when I'm dealing with chefs, because I can work with them on their own level," says Green.

As for the future, Green plans to move into management and on to operations. To help him achieve his goal, he has enrolled on a business management course. He adds: "I want to continue to progress through the company, and at the moment I'm aiming at being an area manager."

Richard Guest

Aged 29, head chef

The Castle hotel, Taunton

Nominated by Kit Chapman, owner and managing director, the Castle hotel.

For someone not yet 30 years old, Guest's pedigree as a chef speaks for itself. It involves three years at London's Savoy and three years at the Four Seasons restaurant, Park Lane, under Jean-Christophe Novelli, who then took him to Maison Novelli.

It's not a surprise, then, that nominator Chapman saw it as a coup to land Guest for his hotel restaurant and brasserie. "Within days of arriving at the Castle hotel last August, Richard had installed a new menu," Chapman says. "And since then his menus and his cooking have developed faster than those of his predecessors at the Castle."

But a head chef need skills other than just cooking, and Guest has installed new disciplines in purchasing and stock control, upping the gross profit to more than 70%, and introducing training programmes for young staff and visiting local colleges.

"It's always nice to achieve an award for anything you enjoy doing," he says. "I've worked in restaurants that got awards, but this is the first with my name on it, and it's great."

Teresa Hatton

Aged 28, director of sales, London

Premier Hotels, London

Nominated by Stuart Harrison, managing director, brands, Premier Hotels

For Teresa Hatton to be one of 30 people to win an Acorn Award is something beyond belief. She says: "To be part of the winners and to be nominated this year is great. I have two colleagues who have won, and they have said it's wonderful."

Hatton is used to awards. Only last year she scooped the Hotel Marketing Association's award for Best Public Relations Campaign for helping to create media awareness, both locally and nationally, for the Holiday Inn Express, Days Inn and Howard Johnson.

The openings of the last two hotel brands were actually overseen by Hatton. The first Days Inn at Waterloo, London, with 162 bedrooms, took in its first guests in December, and Howard Johnson made its UK debut last month at Wembley, London.

Currently, she is hoping to enhance what has so far been a fast-track career with Premier, which began three years ago, by studying for the Advanced Diploma in Marketing.

Hatton considers commitment to the job to be one of the essential elements in building a successful career in the industry. At the moment she hopes to build on the role of director of sales for London.

Alan Holmes

Aged 24, restaurant manager

Paul Heathcote's restaurant, Longridge, Lancashire

Nominated by Paul Heathcote, managing director Paul Heathcote's restaurant

It can't do anybody's reputation any harm to have Paul Heathcote as a nominator for the Acorn Awards, especially when he is describing them as "a capable, trustworthy and enthusiastic young man".

Holmes has been at Heathcote's since 1997, joining as a sommelier from the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel. Since then he has progressed through assistant manager to manager with few setbacks, ultimately aiming for a restaurant of his own.

He is a regular at local wine tastings, and at charity events and local colleges, and in June 1999 he won the Champagne Ruinart UK Sommelier of the Year competition.

"Alan captures the very essence of the Acorn Awards," says Heathcote. "In his time here he has significantly grown and improved in stature, knowledge and responsibility."

Holmes himself is modest about his recognition. "I'm overjoyed," he says.

Chris Horridge

Aged 29, junior sous chef

Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire

Nominated by Gary Jones, head chef, Blanc Restaurants, Great Milton, Oxford

A 10-year career in the RAF was Horridge's grounding for the disciplined environment of Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, but a rise from commis chef to chef de partie during his military stint meant his qualifications were more than sufficient.

His first intention on leaving the air force in 1997 was to find a job in London, but his wife, who didn't want to move to the capital, spotted an advert for a job he subsequently got at Le Petit Blanc in the centre of Oxford.

But the move to Le Manoir in June 1998 really showed him the difference between the RAF and Civvy Street.

"Everything I learnt in the RAF had to go out the window, and I more or less had to start again," he says. "It's so incredibly different."

In less than a year he's gone from demi chef to junior sous chef with the backing of head chef Gary Jones, his Acorn nominator.

"I was chuffed to even be nominated," he says. "But to find out I'd won was fantastic. Two years before I left the air force I would tell my superiors what I wanted to achieve and they'd say, 'Get out of here, Horridge, we've heard it all before.' But now I'm hopefully proving them wrong."

David Jones

Aged 29, general manager

Leith's at the Law Society

Nominated by Jason Snowdon, operations director, Compass UK Leisure

The fact that Jones left school at 16 with no qualifications and no plans for a career only goes to underline how impressive his subsequent rise has been. After attempts to get a substantial foot in the door of the hotel industry, Jones realised in 1991 that he would need some academic grounding to back up his enthusiasm.

Three years and an HND in hotel, catering and institutional management later, he joined a small company called Crown Catering and knew that this, rather than hotels, was his future. He worked there from 1996 to the middle of 1999, gaining the experience for his next move, to Compass, as deputy general manager of Leith's at the Law Society.

But even he couldn't have expected that within days he would be acting general manager, and actual general manager within two months. But it's not hard to see why - he has increased sales by 32% and business is 100% ahead of budget for 1998-99.

Nicholas Lander

Aged 27, head concierge

The Kingsway Hall hotel, London (part of Cola Holdings)

Nominated by David Patterson, operations director, Cola Holdings

Nicholas Lander's dedication to his job is such that he is trying to encourage other youngsters to follow in his footsteps. Going into local colleges to talk about the industry and what the Golden Keys (the society of concierges for the world's top hotels) is about is only one string to his bow.

Lander says he is also proud to have two members of his 13-strong team doing the NVQ qualification, and adds: "New blood coming into the industry at the age of 16 is very important to making the new professionals of the millennium."

His own career in the hotel industry actually started earlier, at the age of 15, when he joined the 300-bedroom St Giles hotel, London, as a trainee hotel manager. This involved working his way up through a programme of departmental training, starting with being a part-time breakfast waiter.

From there, Lander moved on to the Sheraton Belgravia, London, before eventually becoming acting head concierge at Harrington Hall hotel, London, and then moving last year to his first full-time head concierge position at its sister hotel, Kingsway Hall.

For the future, Lander's ambition lies in continuing to encourage youngsters into the industry. He says he wants them to "see the hospitality industry as a career path and recognise the diverse opportunities it holds".

Dagmar Lyons

Aged 27, upstairs restaurant manager

The Savoy hotel, London

Nominated by Michael Shepherd, general manager, the Savoy

By the nature of the rules, Acorn winners' careers to date are usually comparatively brief, but Lyons has managed to squeeze in London, Switzerland, France, the Philippines and, if the offer hadn't come from the Savoy, Hong Kong.

She started as a student at the Hotel Institute Montreux where placements in Switzerland and France led to a position as the first female acting maŒtre d'hôtel in the history of the Hôtel Jules César in Arles, France.

In 1996 she moved to the rooms division of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manila, the Philippines, and was subsequently offered a job at the sister hotel in Hong Kong. But the Savoy stepped in, and since November 1997 she has been manager of the busy Upstairs restaurant. In this independent outlet she has reduced labour costs by 17% in 1998 and a further 13% in 1999, and the present turnover of £600,000 a year is a record.

"The diversity of Dagmar's education, and her experiences in Asia and Europe prior to her joining the Savoy have served to shape her management style," says her nominator, Michael Shepherd. "This, combined with her continuing desire to develop her skills, has made her the effective member of the Savoy's management team that she is today."

Paul Madden

Aged 25, food and beverage manager

Cumberland hotel (Forte), Marble Arch, London

Nominated by Beverly King, general manager, Cumberland hotel, London

As food and beverage manager for a 900-bedroom hotel in central London with four restaurants, three bars, 24-hour coffee bar and room-service operations, and conference, event and banqueting space, Paul Madden has his work cut out.

But he takes all the responsibility in his stride. "It's all part of the portfolio for the job; but it helps to have a great, strong team - from the general manager down to the front-line staff - to work with," says Madden.

As well as a good team, Madden's confidence also comes from having achieved honours at the Shannon College of Hotel Management, and winning three restaurant scholarships during placements from Forte Hotels, Movenpick Restaurants and Great Southern Hotels, Ireland.

Joining the Cumberland hotel five years ago helped Madden build on his attributes. During this time he has had many roles, including Christmas co-ordinator, back of house manager and operations manager.

In his present position of food and beverage manager, Madden oversees a five-strong management team, three support staff, 20 catering duty managers and more than 130 front-line operational staff, including a kitchen brigade of 30 and a further 15 ancillary staff.

Although he has a lot of ambition, Madden says he is happy to stay in food and beverage for the moment. But he adds that if he did consider moving, he would try to make it within the industry, and particularly within Forte.

Paula Masson

Aged 22, catering team manager

Posthouse, Cambridge

Nominated by Robin Hutton, regional general manager, Posthouse Hotels

"If these awards reflect energy, innovation and young talent within our industry today, then Paula Masson is a fine ambassador and future leader for this company and the industry at large."

High praise, indeed, from nominator Robin Hutton - himself a former Acorn winner - and remarkable, considering Masson is just 22 years old.

Interested in hospitality from a young age, Masson went straight from university to be sales manager at Heritage Hotels in her home town of King's Lynn, Norfolk, becoming responsible for a turnover of £1m a year.

Last year Masson moved to the 165-bedroom Posthouse hotel, Cambridge, in a more operational role, as team manager, and overnight became accountable for a team of 50 employees and an average food and beverage turnover of £2m.

She has already reduced the staff turnover there by 20% and contributed to an overall sales growth of 21%. But it is in staff training that she has really made her mark, delivering personally the entire portfolio of sessions necessary to achieving Forte's Commitment to Excellence customer-service award.

But she admits she is still young and is always learning. "I've got 30 or more years ahead of me yet, so I'm just concentrating on doing my job here as well as possible," she says.

Paula Nicholson

Aged 28, group revenue manager

Marriott Hotels UK

Nominated by Greg Place, general manager, Whitbread Hotel Company, Middlesex

Promotion to her new role as group revenue manager for Marriott Hotels in February fulfilled one of Paula Nicholson's immediate goals. She says: "This was exactly want I wanted to do, which was to take on a corporate role, and I hope to be here for at least two years."

Nicholson's new position is another stepping stone in her career with the Whitbread Hotel Company. Having started as a graduate trainee in 1994 (she now works as a mentor to a Whitbread graduate trainee), she moved on to become reception manager of the Leeds Marriott hotel, where she was responsible for a team of 30.

From this, Nicholson got her first taste of being a financial manager when she became the Leeds hotel's rooms revenue manager, before moving to London two years ago to become revenue manager for the London Heathrow Marriott.

Even though she is now happy as group revenue manager, Nicholson says she always likes to have things to aim for. As she says: "I am not ambitious to the point of distraction but I always have to set myself goals."

Jeff Parfrey

Aged 28, operations manager

Granada Services, Reading

Nominated by Tim Moss, managing director, Granada Hospitality

Parfrey is a classic example of how a fast-track graduate management training scheme can pay off with the right candidate. With a degree in history and geography, a career in hospitality may seem strange, but Parfrey has turned out to be a natural.

Responsible for eight branded offers at the Reading services, including Burger King, Harry Ramsden's and Travelodge, he has achieved some impressive results since he joined in 1998 - 40% growth in sales year-on-year in Burger King, a 17% growth in forecourt shop sales and a 13% increase in mystery shopper scores across the site.

These kinds of figures coupled with strong staff-training skills meant Parfrey was the first fast-track manager to be promoted to operations manager - and that was after only 14 months in the company. In fact, he is now chairman of the fast-track development forum set up to establish guidelines for future graduate recruitment.

Jevern Partridge

Aged 28, systems manager

House of Commons refreshment department

Nominated by Sue Harrison, director of catering services, House of Commons refreshment department

A mixture of catering knowledge and IT skills has turned out to be the perfect recipe for success for Jevern Partridge.

Starting his career as a chef, Partridge moved into IT, and three years ago he joined the House of Commons refreshment department (HCRD), where he has sole responsibility for looking after the IT for 29 outlets in three buildings.

During his time with HCRD he has been credited with saving a £250,000 EPoS project and converting a manual banqueting diary system. Automated production of an invoice after the event and the proactive chasing of prospective bookings are just two of the new features available to the department, which caters weekly for about 70 private functions and has an annual turnover of £2m.

Being credited with modernising the catering services of such a high-profile organisation with a yearly catering turnover in excess of £4.5m hasn't fazed Partridge. He says: "I do feel honoured to work here. As long as the objectives meet our needs, we have a fairly free hand with what we can do here."

But Partridge is now ready to move on to new challenges. He says: "It would be nice to take on a growing chain."

Stuart Procter

Aged 24, general manager

The Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire

Nominated by Jeremy Rata, managing director, the Devonshire Arms

"Procter is an exceptional individual," according to nominator Jeremy Rata, and his general manager title at such a young age is certainly an achievement to be proud of.

Starting at the Devonshire Arms (AA three red stars/RAC Blue Ribbon) in July 1998, first as acting general manager and then as general manager, he began his career as a trainee manager at Northcote Manor in Blackburn, followed by stints at Shire Inns hotels, Brandshatch Place in Kent and the Vineyard in Newbury.

"It's fantastic. It's the first award I've won, and I'm delighted," says Procter. "It's good for me, and I think it's really good for the hotel."

Rata's confidence in Procter has been more than justified. Since his arrival the hotel has been awarded the RAC Blue Ribbon, the hotel has had its best financial performance this year, and Procter has supervised a refurbishment programme for 26 bedrooms.

He has also been instrumental in the implementation of training at the hotel. He is currently putting five employees through courses up to NVQ level 5 and has recently started an apprenticeship scheme.

"Since his arrival at the Devonshire Arms, Stuart has been the consummate professional," says Rata. "He is a very focused individual, dedicated to providing a first-class experience for our guests."

Samantha Quail

Aged 29, personnel and training manager

Hilton Glasgow

Nominated by Klaus Zsillia, general manager, Hilton, Glasgow

A naked man springing up out of a bed marked the frightening start to Samantha Quail's career in the hotel industry.

It was while working as a 16-year-old chambermaid at the Forte Albany hotel, Glasgow, that Quail forgot one of the golden rules about cleaning rooms: always open the curtains first. "I thought I'd just pull the bedclothes back on my way to the window," says Quail, "and this naked man suddenly just sat up and pulled them back."

But running scared from the room didn't put her off pursuing a hotel career, although she did quickly work her way up from chambermaid.

After a few months of deputising as night manager at 18, Quail made the decision to move into personnel while still studying at Glasgow Caledonian University (where she was named Student of the Year by Scottish Highland Hotels).

Quail rapidly moved into the position of training manager at various establishments before marking one of the biggest achievements of her career: helping to create the original concept of the Malmaison hotel, Glasgow.

Among her duties as personnel and training manager with the Hilton, Glasgow, she manages a recruitment process for 20 departments from front-line staff to senior management. She is also responsible for all staff facilities and support staff.

Christian Rogers

Aged 29, hotel services manager

Granada Healthcare Services

Nominated by Peter Bennett, operations director, Granada Healthcare Services

"How can I describe it? Shocked, surprised, delighted." This is Christian Rogers's response when asked how he feels about his award.

Rogers joined Granada Healthcare Services in 1996 straight from university as deputy healthcare manager at Mount Vernon Hospital. Within 12 months he had own unit, managing the private patients contract at Charing Cross Hospital.

Keen to be involved in multi-disciplined contracts, he moved to deputy hotel services manager at Mile End Hospital in May 1998, finding himself with more than 200 staff and a turnover of £4m.

In August 1999 Rogers was given the chance to prove himself on a company-wide project, introducing a food production control system into the division. The company is now forecasting a saving of more than £100,000 for the year as a result to its implementation.

Now, as hotel services manager at Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, Middlesex, his skills and training are paying off, with a staff of more than 100 and a £1.5m turnover.

"It's great to get the recognition, not only within Granada Healthcare but also within the whole catering industry," he says. "I'm absolutely delighted and believe it can only help me in my career."

Stuart Thom

Aged 29, general manager

The Tower restaurant, Edinburgh

Nominated by James Thomson, proprietor, the Witchery and the Tower restaurants

There are many strings to Stuart Thom's bow. Charities, school visits and getting sponsorship for a local under-seven football team are just part of the work he does along with holding his position of general manager at the Tower restaurant, Edinburgh, sister eaterie of the Witchery.

Combining a multitude of activities is nothing new for Thom. He has overseen the successful launch of the 140-seat, year-old restaurant, prompting food critic AA Gill to say: "This has become the hottest table in town." The restaurant has also recently gained two AA rosettes.

He says: "It was great to get the food critics in and to get the good reviews, but we have to rely on the everyday food critics, our customers, and make sure they are happy."

Thom - who worked in Australia and New Zealand for three years, as well as several places around Scotland, including the Edinburgh-based Marriott Dalmahoy Hotel & Country Club - is keen to pick up all the latest training techniques. Only last year he attended a course at the renowned Disney Institute in Florida.

The most important thing he learnt there was to respect his staff. "I have to know my staff, and to respect what they do. I want them to work with me and to be a team," says Thom.

Catherine Toolan

Aged 25, food and beverage manager

Posthouse hotel, Dublin Airport

Nominated by Brian Thornton, regional general manager, Ireland, Posthouse Hotels

Even at the age of 25 Toolan can legitimately claim to have 12 years' experience in the hospitality industry. Anyone who does the maths will work out that that means she started at 13 years old.

Collecting glasses in her local pub in County Sligo started Toolan off, but she went on to earn a hotel business degree at Galway Institute of Technology, where she also won awards for best thesis and was named student of the year for her "outstanding contribution to academic achievement and student life".

It was while she was still a student that she completed a placement as trainee manager at the Posthouse in Heathrow, and then in Dublin, where she returned to work after graduation.

Quickly promoted, she developed the first Posthouse Oriental restaurant, Sampans, which has since spread to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester. She has since been promoted again, to food and beverage manager, where she has shown a 12% growth in sales and has kept staff turnover at just 2%, all while completing a first class honours masters degree, which took her away for two months to Beijing - the first Irish student ever to be awarded a scholarship there.

But Toolan sees the Acorn Award as a crowning achievement so far. "I was just so surprised," she says. "I've been reading about the awards ever since I was in college, and to actually get in the magazine myself winning one is fantastic."

Martin Willsher

Aged 27, executive chef

Schroder, Initial Catering Services, London

Nominated by Doug MacEwan, building services manager, Schroder, London

He may have only worked at Schroders Investment Management, London, since last year, but Initial Catering Services executive chef Martin Willsher has already been praised for lifting the standard of the company's hospitality meals.

Acorn nominator Doug MacEwan proudly states that the food has gone from being "good-quality, plain cooking to meals of exceptional quality".

Willsher's ambition is to turn around the way people view catering in the food service sector. "When I arrived at Schroder, service was what I'd call a bit slap-and-tickle. But now they come in, are being greeted, and are sitting down to plated meals. And they can talk about the food as well as business," says Willsher.

Considering his background, it is not surprising that Willsher is serving restaurant-standard food. Before joining Initial, in 1999, he spent time in restaurants such as the White Horse Inn, Framlingham, Suffolk, and Russells restaurant, Great Baddow, Essex, where he was joint head chef.

To achieve his ambitions, Willsher has also overcome dyslexia, and is keen to encourage others with disabilities to come into the industry. And he has some advice for managers and tutors: "I think people should spend time and show people how to do things properly without making a joke out of it."

The judges

Holly Addison, consultant, the Chess Partnership

Sara Hobbs, Fair Trade marketing manager, Oxfam, and 1999 Acorn winner

Tony Jackson, head of food operations, Macdonald Hotels

Pat McDonald, proprietor, the Epicurean

Forbes Mutch, editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper

Calum Ross, food service director, Bestfoods UK

Charlotte Vickers, banqueting manager, the Dorchester

Frank Whittaker, sales and marketing director, food service companies of Granada Restaurants

The sponsor

Calum Ross, foodservice director of Bestfoods UK, says: "Caterplan's continued sponsorship of the Acorn Awards demonstrates our firm commitment to the food service industry.

"As sponsors of the 2000 Acorn Awards, Caterplan offers its congratulations to all of the winners who, in their own way, have demonstrated a passion for excellence and dedication to the food service industry.

"The Caterplan Division of Bestfoods UK is the manufacturer behind leading brands including Knorr, Hellmann's, Ambrosia, Marmite, Napolina and Thomas Morel.

"Caterplan has sponsored the Acorn Awards since they were first launched 13 years ago, and we play an active role in the Acorn Club, membership of which is open to all winners.

"By continuing to sponsor the Acorn Awards we hope to encourage the high standards demonstrated by all this year's winners. Today's young achievers have our best wishes and continuing support for the future."

Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 27 April - 3 May 2000


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