John Whitehouse reveals CESA evolution

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John Whitehouse took over the mantle of CESA chair at the association’s 2018 conference.

It’s once again the beginning of a new era in the life of the CESA chair. At the association’s 2018 conference, the mantle was handed over from Glenn Roberts to John Whitehouse, MD of First Choice Group.

This marks the first time that the CESA chairmanship has been passed to someone from the spares supply arena, and Whitehouse believes that he can bring a whole new set of skills to the table: “Certainly the industry leaders that have preceded me have a great knowledge of the dealer and consultancy network. But I think I can look at the industry from more of a ground- or grassroots level.

“In the spares world we as First Choice have contributed behind the scenes, and we know a lot about the industry, marketing, engagement, customers and how to focus on the right customers. We also come at it from a manufacturer front, as we have many spares master distributorships, as well as knowing about schemes through the dealer network we work with, and about servicing from our maintenance provider customers, so we know what end users want via a variety of ways.”

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Whitehouse has gone through a journey with CESA to get to this point too. “Although we’ve been CESA members since 2009, up until 2 years ago I didn’t consider myself worthy of the chairman’s chain. But having spent some years working within the sub-committees, the council and attending the meetings, I started to see a change in the industry, becoming a lot more competitive.

“I felt that being part of CESA helped us to engage with the industry in a different way, and it also helped First Choice as a business, to understand what was going on in the marketplace and to help the industry’s direction and add value into it.”

It’s a very interesting time to be taking over the helm of the association too, as during 2018 it overhauled its structure to create sector-specific committees.

As Whitehouse detailed: “Over the past years, CESA council structure and responsibilities have evolved, and last year it was decided to redefine the positioning of the board and council roles to further support the needs of the association and its members.

“Having 16 council members now, all with great and varied experiences, it was decided to promote greater member participation by creating additional member-facing committees/working groups for different sectors of the industry such as warewashing, cooking, refrigeration and parts and service to name a few, and all chaired by current council members. These working groups look at all the main issues faced by the different sectors and are then fed back to council and board meetings for any decisions/actions required.

He continued: “It is in its infancy and we have programmed all the meetings into the calendar for 2019 so I’m focused on supporting these meetings to get them started and attended so we can get some great results from them. Member involvement is encouraged and essential to the future of CESA, so please contact CESA and get involved.”

New council members include Rational UK MD Simon Lohse and Electrolux Professional marketing manager, Julie Fell. According to Whitehouse: “The newer council members offer so much, and some of the older ways have changed already, because the new blood has reinvented the decision-making. It’s great for the association and the industry to have that feedback.”

“CESA has made a 5-year plan and strategy, we’ve redefined what the council is, and the new workgroups mean we can attack a lot more topics in a few different ways. Whereas it used to be one person dealing with a topic and another few committee members, it’s now open to CESA members.

“Over the last couple of years we have been devising the infrastructure and in 2018 we put that into place. But we hadn’t created the calendar for 2019 until recently, so this year is when everything starts to take shape. We’re going to make sure we follow those schedules up and help develop the committees where necessary.”

CESA’s new committee structure.

He reported: “I have set myself the task of helping to steer the new committee and council, to get everyone involved in a more energising way than attending a meeting. It’s a much more interactive council now, so we are trying to engage in this new way that gets people working together and engages with the wider membership.”

Whitehouse described his three main focuses for the next 2 years as being:
• Improving member engagement and growing CESA membership
• Developing the new structure with the council and board, including value-added services to our members through the new sector committees and activities
• Promoting more training and education within the membership.

Training is particularly close to his heart, having much experience with engineer education within First Choice’s training arm, Combico. “The industry in general needs more training,” he commented. “People have to step up to the mark to commit to it, and CESA is very keen to develop those strands in every way possible.”

And he has taken the bull by the horns personally on that score, studying for the CFSP (Certified Food Service Professional), being due to take the exam in February. “Over 500 people have already qualified for the CFSP in the UK alone, and the entry level Principles of Foodservice is growing with it too,” he said.

As well as ensuring that the industry is as informed as it can be when preparing for Brexit, thanks to updates from CESA director, Keith Warren, who is working closely with governments and other trade bodies, the association now has a complete agenda for 2019. “When the board meets it will define the topline topics from discussions at council and on committees,” Whitehouse clarified. “The council is not changing its role, it’s actually being more engaged with what’s going on with those committees.

“We will be making sure we get the right feedback from the meetings, just the action points and not the entire content. It’s all about prioritisation.”

Looking ahead, he concluded: “I’d like to think that through the progression of the expanded working groups and council engagement, members would see more of the council, more of the association and the work that it does.

“I would like to be more engaged with the members so that they understand more of what we do as council, because we are simply channels for developing added value services for the members. We’d like to think we can get more people to conference and more people involved in the working groups, while innovating and involving ourselves in the industry, developing the services our members want.”

Tags : CESAfirst choice group
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls


  1. Many congratulations John, I hope that you thoroughly enjoy the challenge of chairing the association and representing our fine industry. I know that you will recieve the full backing of your colleagues on the council and CESA board as we navigate the choppy waters ahead. Heres to a great 2 years at the helm!
    Best Regards

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