Leading Light

The catering family in the UK has been diminished by the recent death of Robyn Jones, the woman whose steely determination created the contract catering company Charlton House.

In what was almost the classic ‘from adversity to success’ story, she turned redundancy into an opportunity to launch her own business.

Specialising in staff feeding, Charlton House grew to become one of the biggest independent contractors in the UK, acquiring Lusso, Chester Boyd and Ampersand along the way.

The group became CH&Co and, this summer, she and husband Tim, group chairman, signed the merger with HCM Group that created a £200-million business employing 4,500 people.

That would be impressive enough, but Robyn was always about more than the bottom line. She recognised her responsibility as a female leader in an industry that is overrepresented by men at the highest levels.

Growing Business magazine named her one of the ten most successful entrepreneurs in the UK and, in 2007, she was named the Credit Suisse Most Outstanding Woman in Business. In 2011, Women 1st honoured her with its annual Shine Lifetime Achievement Award.

The example she set and the mentoring she provided through Women 1st have definitely helped create an environment that is more encouraging for women.

Part of her legacy is the comfort the catering industry has today in having women in the very top roles.

We’re still some way off achieving a 50:50 male:female ratio in senior management and among directors, but two of those following in Robyn’s wake have been in the news lately.

Debbie White, chief executive of Sodexo UK & Ireland, has presided over a strong UK performance over the first nine months of the year and is looking forward to the announcement of the year-end results in November. You can read what she has to say on page 6.

And Catherine Roe, chief executive of Elior UK, has just celebrated her first year in the role. In our cover story, starting on page 16, she tells us about the past year and what the future holds.

Leading Light

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