From Groom to Director
One of the great attributes hospitality has as an industry is the range of personalities that can be found amongst this business.
To those within, the hospitality industry is generally seen as an industry full of opportunity. It may not always be a profession of choice, for many people it’s just an easy place to get work experience or an industry that allows for time constraints through various part-time positions. Many of the stories of the current leaders in the industry start out exactly in that way – it wasn’t an industry they had planned to be in but there was an entry level position at the right time. Heidi Stone’s story is no different – although it is probably quirkier than most. EP found out how she went from being a riding instructor to becoming Gather & Gather’s ambitious Sales and Marketing Director.
What was your first job in hospitality?
I grew up in a seaside town and had a range of holiday jobs waitressing, as a chamber maid and in my late teens doing bar work, however the first real job I had in hospitality was completely random. I’d been working in London for about six years but was fed up of the daily commute so started looking around for something closer to home. Compass was advertising for a sales and marketing manager and the regional office was only 2 miles up the road from my house. Until then I didn’t even know the contract catering industry existed but I got the job based on my previous experience in marketing and PR.
What did you study?
When I was younger, I was mad about horses and so when I left school all I wanted to do was ride full time. I trained as a riding instructor and then went abroad as a groom. It didn’t take me long to realise that very low pay and very long hours wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I returned to the UK after a couple of months and went back to college where I studied computer science. I wasn’t very good at it!
Who has been your greatest influence in hospitality and why?
When I first joined Compass I was absolutely starting from scratch in the industry. The Sales Director for the South East at the time, Will Lewis, mentored me and took me on a very steep learning curve in a very short space of time. He also got me involved in projects across the wider company, gave me credit for my successes and he was great fun to work for. Undoubtedly I wouldn’t have gone as far as I have now without him taking me under his wing. I think he made me realise I could have a career and not just a job. The subsequent merger with Granada then gave me the opportunity for promotion.
What are the skills that have helped you get to where you are now?
Determination, resilience, being mega organised and I love a challenge!
Also, I have a favourite piece of advice, which was given to me years ago: “There is always something you can do about it – you just have to work out what”. I’ve regularly reminded myself of this over the years!
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Without doubt, rebranding MITIE’s catering business to Gather & Gather and being part of the team that has trebled the business over the last two years. I’m so proud of all we’ve achieved – it’s been an amazing journey and more successful than any of us could have foreseen.
Would you say that hospitality is a good career for women? If so, why?
I think both hospitality and FM still have a long way to go to become aspirational professions which is a shame, but it does mean that both offer great careers for anyone, regardless of gender or background. It’s easy to work your way up through the ranks in this industry and if you’re determined enough, there really are no limits to what you can achieve.
They are also very flexible industries to work in because they want to attract and retain talent. I’m a single parent with three children and there are not many industries where your working day, in a really rewarding and demanding role, is still flexible enough to fit around the family. For that I’m very grateful.