After 33 years at Tricon Foodservice Consultants, John Downman has retired and left his position on the Tricon board.
It was a decision prompted by the recent lock down, as Downman reported he had time to reflect on what is important and decided he wanted to enjoy more quality time with his wife (who also retired in the summer) and family, including his three grandchildren.
He started his career with Tricon as a management consultant, having previously been a client for some 2 years at The Barbican Centre, London. When Downman joined Tricon in August 1987, he was integral to growing and developing Tricon’s management consultancy department for many years.
An early project he remembers being involved with was the planning of the food court at St John’s Centre in Liverpool, when food courts were popular going into the early 1990s. This was followed by several others, as major retail centres were developed (Leeds) or older ones modernised (Swindon).
An early large project Downman recalls was with Ford Motor Company. Tricon was commissioned to undertake a manpower survey and he led a team of six people over a 3-month period which involved assessing shift work patterns and productivity in catering across all of Ford’s UK sites. They visited every plant across every shift, day and night. The team concluded costs could be reduced by 30% and all of its suggestions were implemented.
Downman went on to lead a larger project for British Aerospace, across its 20+ UK plants. The contract was a catalyst in cultural change as sites moved to single-status dining whereas historically many had separate levels of dining including directors, senior secretaries, secretaries, test pilots, down to those working on the shop floor. This brought all of the catering contracts under a single contract and introduced on a large-scale the guaranteed performance contract. The savings were significant, initially £5m per annum in subsidy, increasing to £7m after further changes.
During these early years with Tricon, Downman worked with a number of companies in establishing their early FM policies, something that was not a well-developed area at the time. A 2-day training course for managing catering contracts was started also, in conjunction with the BIFM.
As the Millennium neared there was Lottery funding available to cultural and historic sector institutions, through which Tricon won a number of contracts. One such project, at The Tower of London, stands out to Downman for its challenges and its prestige; putting a commercial kitchen in a 1,000-year-old building where any change had to be fully reversible. The solution was a kitchen in a freestanding building next to the Banqueting House, sitting on the other side of the inner wall of the Tower. Historic arrow slits could be re-opened to create a door access to the building.
Other Lottery-funded projects he managed included Boathouse No.9 at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth (again requiring full reversibility), the Great Court at the British Museum, a rooftop restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery, the Courtyard Restaurant at the Wallace Collection and the new Visitors Centre at Stonehenge.
In 2003 Downman pitched for advising on the F&B strategy for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar; unbeknown at the time, a decision that was set to change the course of the rest of his career. After many re-submissions, he sent another tender to the head of games services and Tricon was appointed by return on a Thursday, with Downman required to be in Doha on the Sunday ready to start that day. Over the next 6 months, he spent half of his time in Doha, which was to be a rapid learning experience. Within a high-pressured environment with many fast-paced changes, tight deadlines and turnarounds, new cultures and ways of working to get his head around, Downman relished in his new surroundings and impressed well amongst architects and developers in the Middle Eastern markets.
He quickly built up Tricon’s work in Qatar. One piece of work led to another and Downman soon found himself overseeing projects in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, where new sectors for consulting opened up including waste management. The work in Qatar led also to Tricon working on six of the eight stadia being constructed for the 2022 World Cup; from developing the catering and waste strategies through to designing the facilities. This work in sports stadia trickled west and in more recent years Tricon has won work with the likes of FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC, Brentford Community Stadium and most recently for the new Everton stadium.
Downman travelled extensively to the area on projects right up until the lockdown in March of this year. The farthest afield was Vladivostok (a university campus) and Sakhalin Island (training facilities managers). He retires as one of the most experienced and respected foodservice management consultants in the industry, and number one in Qatar.
Tricon MD Mike Coldicott, is sorry to see Downman depart from the company for which they have both worked for and built up over more than 20 years. He said: “As they say, all good things come to an end, and it is with some sadness that John has decided that the time is right for him to retire and exit the business.
“During his illustrious career with Tricon, John has experienced the highs and lows as the business has grown and developed and has always been a key contributor to directing the success and growth of the business to what it has become today. His extensive industry knowledge and analytical skills will be sorely missed, as will his detailed insight and contacts in the Middle East markets, amongst many others.
“For me personally, John’s departure is particularly poignant as he and I have worked together for some 20+ years, throughout which I have enjoyed his support, and sometimes challenging opinions, that have helped us drive the company forward. Whilst it will be sad to see him depart, he hopefully won’t be a stranger.”
Looking back on his career, Downman credits a great team and reflects on his colleagues with much fondness: “My career at Tricon has offered me many opportunities both professionally and personally and has taken me on many adventures.
“Behind it all has been the most supportive and long-standing team, many of whom have come to be like family. To name but a few, I have worked with Paul (Wright) for 30 years, Mike (Coldicott) for nearly 25 years, Alister (Morgan) for 20 years and Sarah (Baker) for 15. Working together for so long, and all with the same drive to go the extra mile, you can absolutely rely on one another. I credit the whole team with getting Tricon to the position it is in today. And I leave with the parting message for them to seize every opportunity.”
He added: “Whilst I will miss such an exciting and fulfilling working life, I will not miss the long hours spent commuting on the busy M25, but will instead enjoy long, early morning walks in the wood close to where I live and spend time with those closest to me.”
The team at Tricon thanked Downman for his long service and wished him all the best for a long and happy retirement.