Having served as the FCSI’s vice chair for the past two years, Niccola Boyd-Stevenson admits she is under no illusions about “what I am letting myself in for” as she begins the first month of her two-year term as the society’s chairman for the UK & Ireland.
The managing director of Panache Consultancy officially took up her new post following the FCSI’s recent AGM in Poole and she goes into it with a pretty thorough understanding of how the organisation is placed.
“I have sat on the Executive Board for eight years now, so I feel quite in tune as to what the expectation is in terms of my position,” she says. “What has been good is that I have been working with [previous chairman] David Bentley for the last two years as vice chair, so I can keep up the momentum of good work in the direction that he has been taking it, but also add my own stance to it and my own input.”
Boyd-Stevenson has, in her words, seen the FCSI “change shape considerably” since her involvement with the organisation. In that time, its profile has also grown significantly within the industry.
It is clear that she is now looking forward to being able to stamp her own mark on the society and oversee the direction it takes.
“I think as vice chair you are there as a support. And as chair you are there as the lead, which is why I think that I can take the good work that I have been doing with David and continue it, but I can also put my own slant on it. The things that have been frustrating me, perhaps, over the last couple of years can now be brought to the top of my agenda and I can actually push those through with the support of my Executive team.”
Her primary objectives include increasing the recognition of the FCSI and making sure it influences industry policy as much as possible. She is quick to pay tribute to the momentum that David Bentley and, before him, Jonathan Doughty, built up in that regard, but says she is determined to “ratchet up a bit”.
At the end of the day, though, for all its strategic goals and aspirations, the FCSI exists to serve its members, which chiefly include foodservice design consultants and management consultants. That point is not lost on Boyd-Stevenson.
“I want the society to give back more to the members,” she says. “I want communication to be improved upon because the Executive, for example, does an awful lot of good work and sometimes the members don’t get to hear about it. And equally we need to listen to the members a bit more in order to drive the direction of that good work. The two key things on my agenda are to improve communication, so we can give better value to the members, and to increase the momentum of collaboration and the voice that we have in the industry to help influence and improve standards.”
While incoming chairmen of industry bodies have been known to make their appointments felt by stating grand intentions of growing membership numbers, Boyd-Stevenson is in the fortunate position of presiding over an organisation that already has a strong and stable membership base.
If there is any concerted effort to increase the numbers in future then the FCSI will likely have to cast its net wider and appeal to contemporaries in parallel areas of the hospitality sector, such as tourism or interior design consultants.
At the moment the FCSI is reviewing its membership structure for other reasons. It is considering whether to introduce company memberships for both Professional members and Allied members in addition to individual membership. This could also potentially help to grow member numbers.
The timing of Boyd-Stevenson’s chairmanship in context of the wider market remains interesting. While conditions — namely the emergence of new catering projects — are improving, she admits the sector remains polarised.
“I think that we as consultants are falling into two different categories. There are those that are extremely busy and are actually developing and progressing very well because they are very busy, and then are those that are struggling. That is probably to do with the type of markets they have been working in and whether the funding has been available or whether projects have been pulled.
“I do think it is starting to get better and we are beginning to rise out of the ashes, but as a result of that we are all having to look at added value. Rates have definitely been pushed down, clients are definitely expecting more for less and added value is on everybody’s agenda.”
Such challenges present an opportunity as far as Boyd-Stevenson is concerned. She admits the one thing the FCSI can’t afford to lose sight of is the need to provide its members with credibility. “Because clients are looking for that added value they also need assurances, and those assurances can be provided through the FCSI,” she says.
The FCSI’s new chairman now has 24 months to make her authority count.