Mike Sunley, chief executive of food service brand Lexington, explains the decisions and cultural priorities that brought his company success.
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Ever since it was established in 2002, Lexington has tried to do things differently. This open attitude and willingness to explore ideas has enabled us to develop a strong, people-focused culture that fosters innovation and isn’t afraid to learn from mistakes.
Thinking back to the beginning, everything was less complex. What we were doing was ground-breaking. No one else was talking about 'farm to plate', sustainability or employee wellbeing. For a time, this really set us apart from the rest of the industry, but things changed quickly.
In order to remain competitive and grow in the way we expected, we needed to look at everything from our strategy, to our day-to-day operations, suppliers and the food we put on our menus.
It was our culture and team that established Lexington and we needed to remain agile, to respond to market needs quickly and manage change effectively if we were to stay ahead of the game.
A culture of innovation
In recent years innovation has become a buzz word across all industries, but to truly drive growth you need to really embrace opportunities and not just pay lip service to them. This was the catalyst for Lexington’s initial growth, and it led to the introduction of our award-winning healthy eating brands.
It also led to us creating a completely new service offering – Lexington Reception Services. For us innovation is simply essential and a must if we are to continue to meet the needs of our clients and customers.
We’ve always been an ideas-driven organisation and made sure that we take regular time out together, as a leadership team, to collaborate and share ideas. More importantly we spent time across our sites to understand how our team operate and made sure that this attitude and openness to new ideas permeated the entire organisation.
As the organisation grew we wanted to make sure this outlook remained central to everything we did, so we put together new structures and processes to make it easier to facilitate innovation, no matter how large the organisation grew.
So, why the need for such a drastic change? The food service industry is rapidly changing – there’s more competition than ever on the high street, customers want more healthy options and a shift to ecommerce is taking place.
We had some absolutely brilliant ideas and knew what we need to do to compete with the high street, but things are continually changing and we just didn’t have the resources to put all of our plans and ideas into action. We needed a bigger machine behind us.
Innovation and acquisition has fuelled Lexington's growth
Collaboration is crucial to success
Over the years we formed many successful partnerships, always with the aim of driving innovation, always looking for that competitive advantage. This includes our joint apprentice scheme with Michelin Star Chefs, Chris and Jeff Galvin.
Our innovations and partnerships had really helped drive organisational success but we knew that to survive long-term we needed to take that next step and reassess our strategy.
That is why, in 2014, Lexington was acquired by Elior. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. We took our time and assessed various options, including acquiring other smaller companies and amalgamating them under the Lexington brand.
We knew we needed a bigger machine behind us to compete with the ever-evolving offer on the high-street and continue providing the very best food and service.
Elior has provided the additional support we need to remain agile and respond to market needs, whilst maintaining our own brand and remaining true to our customers. But what really convinced us that it was the right decision was that both organisations shared such similar values.
We genuinely care about people and are driven to deliver great food and service. We were, and continue to be, inspired by the possibilities ahead of us. Under the Elior umbrella, Lexington is able to expand the service more quickly and secure the investment required to ensure we continue innovating to meet client and customer demand.
There are some amazing examples of this across the organisation, from investment in new concepts, solutions and services for our customers and an increasing focus on the latest digital technology.
With a clear investment programme targeted at food tech start-ups like Vita Mojo, we are able to ensure we personalise our offer and help our customers achieve their health goals by monitoring nutritional information.
Post-acquisition investment is the name of the game
Empower your people first
Change and take overs will always worry staff. But both Elior and Lexington are incredibly people-focused organisations. Both organisations have leaders who genuinely care about the team and want them to feel valued and fulfilled at work.
Because of this, employee engagement and trust, which could have fallen to an all-time low during the acquisition, remained high. Lexington ensured the people side of the business was integrated into the strategy and reaped the rewards.
Two-way communication was essential, allowing the organisation to create an open and honest environment from day one. The team were encouraged to share any concerns they had and Lexington made sure that they felt part of the change as it was taking place.
Keeping the brand alive
In the modern business environment social media is important, awards invaluable and partnerships priceless, but what really matters for a catering provider is the food on offer and the team that provides it.
Lexington was never looking to change its brand. We have an identity, which was built on trust and recognition and we were determined to maintain that. It was support to build on these foundations that was needed.
Our ideologies match so well that we are able to focus on what we do best whilst being able to support each other to provide the very best food and service possible to our clients and customers.