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Meet the MD: Rachel Hall of City Catering Southampton

If you can tap into what drives you and makes you motivated as a person, you can move mountains, Rachel Hall tells us about the importance of self-awareness, the stress-busting benefits of walking her little boy to school and the development of her charity City Catering Southampton.

What is it the company does?

City Catering Southampton (CCS) is proud to be the UK’s first charitable catering company of its kind.

We operate in three markets – corporate catering, school meals, and community meals. They’re mutually supportive operations.

Our ‘why’ is to help support the health and wellbeing of Southampton residents through the services we provide and the profits that we generate.

We’re about improving people's lives through the promotion of wholesome, nutritious food. We believe that great quality food, served with kindness and care, is a right, not a privilege. Everyone deserves the best possible nourishment. We exist to make a tangible nutritional difference in people's lives.

We serve nutritious meals for the city’s vulnerable adults and school-age children – meals that support their wellbeing, their growth and development, and therefore their ability to thrive.

We have an outstanding track record in service delivery and are proudly accredited as a Soil Association ‘Food for Life’ caterer.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I lead our organisation to achieve our strategic goals and hold us to account for the standards we set for ourselves. My role is about facilitating our senior management team, and our board of trustees, to deliver what we promise. My focus is on strategic planning, customer engagement, fundraising and influencing. The role of brand ambassador is a crucial one if we’re to achieve all that we set out to achieve.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

Way back when, I started out as a Saturday girl in a newsagent in my hometown. I’ve worked in many industries and roles since, notably publishing when I graduated university. It’s where I learned copywriting and a love for the written word. From there, I jumped into a research role and for over 15 years, worked alongside my mum to establish and grow a niche management and leadership consultancy firm.

I’m a qualified professional co-active coach as a result of my time in that industry; it’s a skillset - and mindset - that’s been a huge support in business, and that I still lean on daily. Over the years, I’ve built up many areas of specialism, but my love for copywriting and business development endures. And of course, leadership skills and commercial business management capabilities are relevant whatever the industry. 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Without a doubt, it’s been implementing cultural change within our organisation – we’re a business that has been through a significant transformation since 2015, when we spun out of Southampton City Council.

Our operational imperatives are largely unchanged today, but our ways of working are unrecognisably different. Culturally, we’ve moved to a consultative stance and we now collectively use a situational approach to leadership as the need arises. This new style of leadership allowed us to set new ambitions for the business that every member of staff is on board with, and has an opportunity to contribute towards. It’s hugely rewarding to achieve this, but not simple.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

My family and my little boy keep me grounded. We walk to and from school most days, and there is something about holding the hand of a six-year-old that is a huge stress-buster. But beyond home, it’s focusing on what our organisation is achieving for the community that keeps me fired up and connected with ‘the why we’re here’.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I took an O-Level in home economics, among other things, and wanted to cook, ironically! I begged my mum to let me sign up for Tante Marie Culinary Academy to do sixth form. We didn’t have that kind of money as a family and the fascination passed. Teenagers are so fickle!

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Poor grammar and enunciation.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

I want to see us with a broader geographic reach so we can generate more charitable funds to support more families. As part of that, I expect us to make more of passive-income opportunities, and to evolve into a more digital organisation that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and business information systems to make better business decisions.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Get to know your inner script - your self-talk. Understand yourself and how you show up in the world. It’s vital self-knowledge. And then get international about what you want to achieve, so you're not falling into business leadership, but heading there intentionally, with inward direction. Success, passion and purpose are not accidental friends. If you can tap into what drives you and makes you motivated as a person, you can move mountains. Stay ‘on purpose’.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Start before you're ready. You can make it up as you go along, you don't have to have it all figured out to get started. There is often a sense of wanting everything to be neat, tidy and to have your ducks in a row before diving into something. Just get cracking and opportunities will unfold. Don't let perfection be the enemy of your progress.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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