Food for thought
Tsebo Outsourcing Group offers market-leading services in outsourced catering solutions, contract cleaning and hygiene solutions. We talk to Dr Chris Jardine, the man who heads up its Catering arm.
Writer Ian Armitage
Project manager Stuart Shirra
Dr Chris Jardine heads up Tsebo Catering Solutions, a South African market leader, which is part of Tsebo Outsourcing Group, the country's largest hospitality services and facilities management company. He is the former group CEO of the J and J Group, a diversified investment and management company and has worked in the logistics, IT and telecommunications, and industrial and financial services sectors. Besides his strong operational track record, Dr Jardine has also served on the boards of companies as diverse as MTN, Transnet, Macquarie First South and Union Carriage and Wagons. He holds BS and MS degrees in Computer Science and a PhD in Information Technology, all from George Mason University in Virginia.
It is an impressive CV and he has been using all of his experience to do some pretty interesting things at Tsebo Catering as it looks to keep pace in a changing world, faced with competition for talent.
"We needed to differentiate ourselves by doing things that haven't been done before," he says. "What became evident was focusing on the basics first. We started with a refreshed operational excellence programme and we've looked at our service culture – from the way we greet our customers on a day-to-day basis to the way we present our food. We also looked at our reporting systems and importantly we've had a huge drive to invigorate and transform the way we deliver experiences to customers."
It's paid off, with a few notable contract wins, much to Dr Jardine's delight.
"Tsebo is a fascinating place to work right now. It is very exciting. Very tough because of market conditions but we are an incredibly exciting point in our history for a number of reasons.
"Our Group was fortunate enough to win a major pan-African contract with a global leader in financial services for South Africa at the back end of last year – our facilities management company landed the facilities management contract – and as part of that Catering has taken the responsibility for providing services to the entire portfolio in SA and we looking at one or two sites across the border as well.
"With that have come challenges because it accelerates the investment and growth across the continent for Tsebo while operating as a multinational keeps you on your toes as the client keeps raising the bar. This is great for us as it means that we have to keep on improving. On our side we have been investing heavily in insuring our skills are appropriate, our quality and our management systems are working at the top of their game and also insuring that we can manage them as a large client on individual sites but still manage them as a single entity. It has been very exciting. It has been a good challenge for us and I am happy to say that I believe that we are operating at the appropriate levels."
It isn't the only contract win.
"We've also just won a large contract in the oil and gas sector in South Africa as well, and we're very pleased that we were able to create the partnership that such prominent and powerful clients can rely on as a Group, providing services across the Tsebo spectrum. Oil and gas has long been a cornerstone of our business, and we see it growing steadily across Africa," Dr Jardine says.
Tsebo's unique selling point is that it is able to sell "peace-of-mind" contract catering services across the spectrum.
"We can customise our offerings and have strong experience. I think in terms of upping the quality of the product, particularly in the corporate sector. We have experienced good growth on the corporate side. On the other hand, it's not all been roses. For example, we haven't been able to solve the problem - and it is a sector problem - of churn of people at the lower end of the industry.
"The initiatives like those looking to improve service excellence have been successful. On the whole, 2013 has been challenging. South Africa has been in the news for a lot of reasons, particularly the ongoing labour disputes. In amongst that our improvement initiatives and our operational excellence initiatives have stood us in good stead because, even as we have experienced work stoppages and total shutdowns, we have been able to more than keep our heads above water and for that we are pleased. We are also pleased, I must say, in the sense that the environment is calming down now, more labour agreements are being struck and they are more reasonable and rational. As a country we are getting back to work. From my perspective, with a client base across the economy, the labour situation in the country seems to be settling down."
The future is bright and Tsebo Catering's footprint will continue to grow - into Africa. "We're bedding down the acquisition of the leading catering company in Mozambique which complements us nicely and is part and parcel of the general African growth strategy that the Group has," Dr Jardine says. "We are in the process of building capacity in Botswana and we are starting aggressively in Zambia, so we are looking beyond our borders - neighbouring countries and beyond. They are all going through a bit of a boo m right now and there are huge opportunities for outside services-based businesses in particular. That is front and centre of the Group's strategy. We have to be innovative. We have to look to new markets. But, we are mindful that we have to win our home games. We are looking at the market across our various segments, where opportunities are and I'm pleased to say some of that has been successful. Because the tough times haven't receded yet, we are constantly looking at increasing our footprint within our existing client base as well and looking to provide additional services."
Dr Jardine is a strong believer in execution being a strategic differentiator in business and once a course has been charted, the ability to make it happen and get the job done is "what distinguishes you".
He is confident about the future but also cautious that success isn't guaranteed.
"I'm optimistic," he says. "Of course, we will continue relentlessly with a drive to continue operational excellence and business efficiency."
Despite challenging conditions and the fact the barriers to entry in the industry are low, Tsebo Catering leads the field. It is in part down to continued training, something the firm "never cuts back on".
"We have not done that and will not cut back on training our people. We are one of the few companies in our sector that still has a dedicated, in-house training entity. For us, it's about continuous training. "We like to believe too that our people aren't confined to boxes. We try to encourage innovation and ownership and hopefully our people experience that and express themselves in ways that benefit the business. It is not magic – our people are good in pulling together as a team and that is a cultural thing, which I can't take the credit for; it is a huge part of our foundation and it continues. We tend to support each other as people and I believe that this is a big part of any success we enjoy."
Tsebo Catering comprises of four entities: Fedics, Fedics Site Services, TsAfrika and Equality Reef Services.
To learn more visit www.tsebo.com.