Arena Face2Face Interview 2016

with Dennis Hogan, Managing Director, Compass Group UK & Ireland

The Landmark, London hotel provided a new home for the Arena Face2Face Interview & Lunch 2016.  Inside the stunning ballroom and drawing room, the atmosphere was one of insight, debate, opinion and interaction, as the issue of Brexit was considered, the values of Compass Group UK & Ireland and its MD, Dennis Hogan, were explored, and foodservice and hospitality professionals caught up with colleagues old and new.

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

The Landmark, London hotel provided a new home for the Arena Face2Face Interview & Lunch 2016.  Inside the stunning ballroom and drawing room, the atmosphere was one of insight, debate, opinion and interaction, as the issue of Brexit was considered, the values of Compass Group UK & Ireland and its MD, Dennis Hogan, were explored, and foodservice and hospitality professionals caught up with colleagues old and new.

The Brexit effect

The emotive topic of Brexit was the morning focus, as a panel of industry experts discussed the impact that this seismic shift for British politics could have on foodservice and hospitality.  Chaired by James Bielby, CEO of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, the panel included Ufi Ibrahim, CEO, British Hospitality Association; Ian Wright CBE, Director General, Food & Drink Federation; Phil Sermon, MD, Vapiano; and Ranjit Mathrani, Chairman, MW Eat.

With no confirmed plan from Government, and clearly more questions than answers, what are the implications and opportunities for our industry?

The biggest concern centred on immigration and a possible labour crunch.  Immigration was a primary focus of the Brexit campaign and it will be very hard for the Government not to take a hard line on this issue to show the Leave voters that they have taken note.

Our industry employs 4.5million people nationwide and the BHA estimates that 15% of the workforce is from the EU – that’s 700,000 jobs.  A percentage that is significantly higher in London.  Even taking into consideration ‘churn’ (migrant workers choosing to work in the UK for a finite length of time), there could be a workforce shortfall of 350,000.  At a time when the skills gap is already an industry issue, this is not a welcome scenario, and there are simply not enough UK nationals to make up the numbers. Concerns were also raised by some of the panel that there is not a desire within Britain to work in our industry, and that the authenticity of our celebrated multiculturalism of food could be undermined without migrant workers to support it.

All panelists agreed that its vital to be able to continue to bring people into the UK to work in our industry and a big picture immigration structure is required. Ufi urged the Government to give a clear message that every EU migrant worker already in the UK is welcome to stay.

Other areas of debate included food costs, with increases inevitable, and the strategy for the post-Brexit repatriation of the regulatory framework, which is thus far undecided between a ‘life and shift’ or a ‘blank paper’ approach. 

Ian Wright urged the Government to play it slow and to ensure a robust exit plan is in place before invoking Article 50.  With only two years to Brexit from Article 50, a timeframe that other EU leaders are unlikely to extend, there is a terrible prospect of legislative work not being completed in this short period.

‘We need time’ was a call echoed by all of the panelists. Time to address and prepare for all the changes that Brexit will bring.  However, just two days after the Arena Face2Face, Theresa May confirmed that Article 50 will be invoked by March 2017.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, with positives including opening up to global talent, having the opportunity to be smart and mitigate the risks by influencing regulation, and a genuine will to work together for the best possible outcome.

Summing up the debate, James Bielby compared negotiating Brexit to being England’s football manager – ‘an impossible job’ – but with opportunities there for the taking.

Alastair Stewart and Dennis Hogan: Face2Face

The busy drinks reception that followed enabled attendees to connect with fellow industry colleagues, before taking their seats for the Arena Face2Face Interview.

A Face2Face veteran, Alastair Stewart OBE eloquently introduced his companion for his fifteenth Arena interview, Dennis Hogan, the managing director of Compass Group UK & Ireland.

After 17 years with Compass Group North America, Dennis joined the UK & Ireland business in 2014.  With a background in finance, economics and accounting, he is naturally business focused, but it was most apparent throughout the interview that as well as the figures, ethics and people matter enormously. 

Originally a ‘number cruncher’, Dennis was in touch with many areas of the US business, particularly in his ‘mergers and acquisitions’ role, and he relished the action and excitement of operations. This drove his progression to be a passionate caterer.  His roots are not forgotten, however, as he regularly works to drive efficiency without compromising on quality.

On moving to the UK, his first observations were that business feels more personal here, and there is a strong emphasis on responsible business. He also saw more caution, but an entrepreneurial spirit too.

Dennis also spoke of a ‘growth mentality’. When you are in growth people want to work with you as you emanate positivity and confidence. In the States, there is an inherent growth culture, whereas in the UK, he saw that there was a plethora of fantastic people and talent, who often just lacked the confidence to ‘go for it’.

The Compass UK & Ireland business is growing and diverse, and Dennis is committed to it being best in class in every area.  As the company has grown and acquired new businesses, their brand identities have been kept and supported, and this approach is respected and something people want to be part of. Looking to the horizon, Dennis sees there being great opportunities for foodservice providers across all of the sectors it operates in and with a really strong competitor landscape, the industry is a very exciting one to work in right now.

When asked to offer advice to budding entrepreneurs with a start-up idea, he replied that it’s tough but if you’re built with the entrepreneurial gene you have to go for it. You need to be resilient, keep going and have self-belief, and also have a good business plan that makes sense. And, one thing for sure is that you will learn more about business in that period than at any other time.

When drawn on the subject of employees, Dennis’ ethics shine through and his emphasis on people is clear. The contract catering sector is tough and hard-working but he wants to make it a natural career choice for people and this boils down to raising awareness and supporting employees. 

Compass has a wide range of training programmes such as the Compass Chef Academy – a dedicated programme for Compass’ culinary apprentices - supporting the business’ drive to deliver 1500 new apprenticeships by the end of 2017 and build more culinary talent. Improving the work life balance and driving female participation is also important.  At present 18% of chefs in the industry are women, but at Compass the figure is 35%, with the ambition to reach 50% by 2020. Dennis is proud of the business’ support of LGBT employees, commenting, “for people to be their best selves, they need the freedom to be themselves.”

Dennis believes in empowering his managers, as they are closest to the business and clients.  His leadership style is based on trust and he sees micro-management as demotivating, valuing the approach of giving his team the room to develop and shine.

Turning attentions to valued supplier partners, Dennis commented that Compass looks to its suppliers to constantly innovate and confirmed that they are ‘bringing it in spades’.

Partnership and trust with clients is also key. Dennis believes that strong partnerships and shared goals deliver the best results both in terms of customer satisfaction and sales - an all-round win.

Innovation is essential for supporting clients. They are looking to attract the brightest recruits and being able to provide a great food offer is part of this.  Creativity and competing with the high street, be that through own brands, high street partners or creative chefs, is paramount and Compass boasts an exciting Innovation Centre to support this philosophy.

On the morning of the Face2Face a newspaper reported that Jeremy Hunt plans to name and shame operators not reducing pudding size. Dennis’ opinion is that healthy eating is important to clients because their employees care about it. However, we still need to give people choices.

Returning to the morning’s Brexit discussion, Dennis stated that there will naturally be winners and losers but it will be business as usual. Supporting clients will remain a priority and any price increase discussions will be had on a client-by-client basis.

In conclusion, Dennis said that whilst efficiencies and growth are important to business, they must not be to the detriment of food: “Food is at the heart of our business and there are corners that must not be cut.”

Following the fascinating Face2Face interview, guests enjoyed a delicious three-course lunch, prepared by the talented culinary team at the Landmark, London.