Arena Events hosts ISS UK & Ireland CEO Matt Brabin

Matt Brabin (left) and Alastair Stewart
27/09/2017 - 07:00
At this month’s Arena Face2Face interview, ISS UK & Ireland CEO, Matt Brabin, revealed to ITV News anchor, Alastair Stewart, what the company learned about itself during 2011’s proposed G4S takeover, the challenges faced by Brexit and how ISS got rid of its unwanted label of being the largest company ‘nobody had ever heard of’’.

Matt Brabin admits to not being able to boil an egg. Although not the easiest culinary skill in the world, when a large part of your work revolves around food, it does seem somewhat of a curiosity. Matt Brabin did not turn up to ISS with a background in foodservice and instead says he grew to love it after digging into the business.

The skilled accountant, systems manager and IT expert started that digging when in 2009 he joined ISS, the service provider of facilities which include security, cleaning, support and catering- the division which represents around 20% of company business.

“It was something that I fell in love with as I got to know the business. I think the catering service line has the strongest association with service and quality. I think across our other lines we learn a huge amount from the service attitude that caterers bring.”

With both parents being schoolteachers, a career in education might have seemed likely, but, after being warned off it by his headmaster father, Brabin now deals with the sector in a different way with the provision of school meals.

“I think headmasters are embracing the idea of healthy meals because they see what it means for the children.

“They are seeing that it is much better to feed children a healthy meal at lunch time that will motivate and stimulate them in the afternoon rather than a packet of Smarties.

Alastair Stewart, who was taking part in his 15th year of Arena Face2Face, was quick to address the potential G4S buyout of 2011- the moment Matt Brabin says ISS learned a lot about itself.

“I think we realised a number of things, the first of which was something that was said on SKY News when the proposed takeover was announced- that ISS was the ‘largest company nobody had ever heard of’.

“This stuck in my mind as I thought if we come through this we really need to do something about this and we have worked hard on our brand ever since and we are much better known now that we were back in 2011.

“When the takeover collapsed, we realised we were far more proud to be ISS than we ever realised because G4S were pretty clear that had the takeover gone the ISS name would have disappeared overnight.

“Back then it was ISS facilities services catering, defence etc, but now it’s all ISS and we are very proud of that.”

Now, after more than five years at the helm and with the company prouder of the brand, Brexit is the latest ‘problem’ on the ISS agenda.

“The immediate impact that we have experienced from Brexit is in our catering business.

“We buy a lot of our raw produce from Europe and with the weakening of the pound the cost of our produce has gone up by 10 or 15%, so that’s been a challenge.

“My retort to our business was ‘go and buy a potato from England, why buy one from Europe’ but the push back for me from the team was ‘Matt, you’re not going to get any’ because they can sell those potatoes for 20% more in Europe because of pound devaluation.

“I think Theresa May’s Florence speech helped a tiny bit but not much because there is still a lack of certainty, but it is the same for competitors.”

Stewart finished his line of questioning by asking If Brabin now considered himself a foodie and if he was confident in ISS’s food division.

“I think when you spend so much time around food and people with a massive passion for it, it definitely rubs off on you. I have an interest in good food and understand food more than I did before I joined the business.

“Our food business is more professionally run now than ever before and we’re working much harder across the business to give the best proposition that we’ve ever done.”

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