FCSI EAME 2015 Conference: day two blog

Talent and creativity at both ends of the experience spectrum was on the agenda on the second day of the 2015 FCSI EAME Conference in Madrid, Spain, reports Michael Jones

In keeping with its pervasive ‘Innovation Generation’ theme, day two of the 2015 FCSI EAME conference kicked off with a series of impressive presentations from three sets of young students in the European hospitality industry shortlisted for the EAME Student Competition Finals. Pitching for a €2,500 prize for first place, the students presented their ideas on innovative projects for the F&B industry to the conference attendees.

First up, Christina Warter and Jasmin Eitzenberger from Germany presented their ‘Culinary Tourism’ web-based concept. They were followed by compatriot Alexander Eychmuller who showcased his ‘Mystery Cooking’ solution, a programme whereby chefs and consultants can check on cooking quality and process in restaurants in a similar way to the mystery shopper concept used in retail.

Presenting by video from the UK, Olivia Mutonono, who is studying in her final year at Sheffield Hallam University, pitched her high-tech interactive table ‘Modish Restaurant’ concept. The winner of the EAME Student Competition Finals will be announced at the Gala Dinner tonight.

Following the students’ presentations, FCSI Worldwide president Jonathan Doughty FCSI took to the stage to introduce three “Legends of the industry,” Vic Laws FCSI, Al da Costa FFCSI and Clara Pi FCSI, to discuss their careers and give their thoughts on the future of the consulting profession and the wider hospitality sector.

In an engaging, inspirational and frequently amusing session, the panel held forth on the successes, failures and challenges they have experienced while forging their career, offering some sage words to young people in the room. “If I have one piece of advice, it’s to always be nice to people on the way up, because you might meet them again on the way down!” said Laws. “Success for me is when you look at a client and know that they can get on without you.”

Working collaboratively was a key, underlying message from the panel. “Everything you do in life is about collaboration. It’s a function of listening first and speaking second. I learned after doing my first consulting project to find out what the client wants before I started talking,” said da Costa who also stressed  the need for FCSI members to engage with young people, mentor them and show them the value that the Society can give them in their careers.

“For me, it should be incumbent on every FCSI member to find young people and say to them, ‘I want to take you on and help you to become an FCSI member’,” said da Costa. Laws was in agreement. “You get out of FCSI what you put into it,” he said, a point reiterated by Doughty. “Apathy is our biggest enemy in FCSI,” he said.

For Clara Pi, working in the industry has encouraged her to consider her own social responsibility and has bought the topic of sustainability to the fore. “I became a vegan so I could become responsible for my own carbon footprint,” she said.

None of the panel are contemplating winding down yet either. “I don’t think I will ever retire. I enjoy this too much,” said Laws. “There’s a fire in me, a passion. It’s still burning,” said Pi. “The day I wake up and feel I’m no longer relevant, that’s the day for me to close out,” said da Costa.

Innovation Generation

The theme of creativity and attracting and retaining young talent was also in evidence from a number of Allied members I spoke to throughout the conference.  “Our business is currently growing by 20% and it’s all based on innovative equipment,” said Martin Ubl, vice president of sales and marketing at MKN. “Five or ten years ago we were ‘a German company’. Now we’re truly international. We invest a lot in innovation. We’ve just invested €15 million in a new production line for moulding and bending stainless steel. The future looks very exciting.”

For Oliver Welschar of Melitta Professional Coffee, there are two different types of innovation that the company focuses on. “First we have ‘improvement innovation’, where we invest in areas such as product quality, pricing and sustainability. But we also devise innovation that is demanded by the ‘zeitgeist’, where we want to show our customers the fireworks, something new. We do both in parallel. We want to make good, long-lasting innovation, it’s crucial, but we also have to show ‘the fireworks.”

For David Riley, managing director, Warewash UK, Hobart , innovation is “all customer driven. We run a number of customer focus sessions throughout the year and find out what they want from their warewashers. We have a road map of development for various lines of equipment for the next five years. Sometimes that’s a completely new machine and sometimes it’s just ‘a facelift’. The R&D budget is linked to each road map. It’s not a fixed percentage each year.

For Marcelo Castigliani, export manager and corporate chef at Josper Commercial Ovens, because their charcoal ovens equipment is “largely unchanged for 46 years” since the company was founded, the focus on innovation is of the internally-facing variety. “We are innovative as a business. Because we have a strong international presence, we try to be innovative in our strategy. We work with a number of companies, for example with Halton on ventilation. Collaboration works very well for us.”

Looking to the future

At MKN the future of their business is all about finding and keeping talented young people. “It is essential to get skilled people. We have our own special part in the factory for apprentices. We are investing a lot into apprentices and we do a lot of internships. We need high quality people to make our high quality products so we put a lot of effort into that. It’s our intention to bring young people into the business and keep them until they retire,” says Ubl.

Welschar agrees. “It’s about showing the younger guys and girls below us that you can make them smarter. You can’t act like a protective mother or father. If you keep them stuck in the closet, you’ll just lose them. We try and match up their personal targets with the company targets. If they express an interest or ambition to work in Australia, for example, we do our best to make that happen if they’re worth keeping.”

That sentiment chimes with Hobart too. “We nurture and retain talent but, because we’re part of the ITW Group, we actively encourage youngsters to develop their careers throughout the division so they can fulfill their ambitions elsewhere in the Group if they want to too,” says Riley.

“We’re very active on social media,” says Josper’s  Castiglioni, citing the firm’s 3,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. “Increasingly chefs are earning Michelin stars at a younger age, between 25-30, and our product really appeals to them, because it allows them to make a more personal connection with cooking.”

Companies being able to make those types of personal connections with the ‘innovation generation’ are increasingly important for the future of this industry it would seem, and the FCSI EAME Conference has been perfectly positioned to capture that spirit.

Michael Jones

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