The Business Big Interview: David Hay, managing director, Compass Scotland

It’s the world’s top catering and support services provider, though far from being a household name. Instead, Compass Group quietly goes about its business of feeding millions of people around the world, every day.

David Hay, managing director, Compass Scotland. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
David Hay, managing director, Compass Scotland. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
David Hay, managing director, Compass Scotland. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The group operates in more than 40 countries in some 55,000 client locations with an incredible five-and-a-half billion meals served every year.

Scotland has been a crucial part of the business for decades now and the operation has recently undergone a major rebranding. David Hay, managing director for Compass Scotland, gives an insight into those changes, and spells out how the company has had to rapidly adapt to challenges such as coronavirus, Brexit and changing eating habits.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

You have just launched Compass Scotland, on St Andrew’s Day, with the firm having operated north of the Border for 70 years. Can you give more details on this new operation and what you hope to achieve with it?

We launched our new business with a remote cook-along! Our brilliant Scottish suppliers pulled together and we created a food and drink hamper and virtual event to showcase our business and talk about why we are making this change after 70 years in Scotland.

Many people are familiar with Compass Group, which is the world’s leading catering and support services provider, but we have a distinct personality and strong reputation in Scotland, of which we are proud. We touch many lives through different sectors, including education, defence, offshore, and workplace catering.

Some clients that you might recognise include prestigious organisations such as Edinburgh Zoo, Chrysaor, EICC, and Merchiston School.

By launching Compass Scotland as a new entity, it’s really about creating long-term growth through bringing our sectors and people together. We will be focusing on developing the best people; celebrating the finest in Scottish produce; and committing to be here in the long term.

Central to our launch is a commitment to the creation and development of a new apprenticeship scheme, supporting people to advance their careers with further training, including degree level schemes. Launching early next year, this apprenticeship programme will work with our Scottish clients, colleges and learning providers to deliver an industry-leading aspirational training programme. It’s an exciting and much-needed development at what’s been a notoriously difficult time for hospitality.

The group has teamed up with Tom Kitchin for the launch, how did this come about and how are you working together?

Chef Kitchin didn’t just cook the venison burgers on St Andrew’s Day, he is now Compass Scotland’s Culinary Ambassador. He’s an iconic Scottish chef, with a similar ethos and passion for working with Scottish produce and for inspiring young talent.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Tom will be contributing to the apprenticeship and training programme, as well as working closely as a consultant; ensuring great food and drink continues to be front and centre of our offering. It’s a really exciting partnership and I’m looking forward to working closely with him on a number of projects in the coming months.

You took the reins in September as managing director of Compass Scotland – what is your remit and what are your personal goals?

In simple terms, my main remit is growing the business in Scotland from Scotland. My role brings together the education, sports and leisure, healthcare, ESS defence and offshore, and workplace catering businesses of Compass, and gives a distinct Scottish focus.

My personal goal is to develop the team; with the long-term aim to progress the people in Scotland to drive the business forward, making the industry and our talent stronger than ever.

It’s a good time to focus on how a Scottish business like ours can play a part in regenerating the hospitality sector. This will come through a focus on developing talent and investing in training. So many people have been hit hard recently and we’ll only do it by helping people rediscover a passion in their careers and giving them genuine opportunities.

Covid-19 has obviously had a massive impact on the hospitality industry, and the future remains uncertain. How has Compass managed and adapted, and what is your view on how the sector can overcome the challenges?

It’s been an incredibly difficult year for everyone, and the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry has been well documented.

As a large organisation, we work across many different sectors – so while some parts of our business have been hit hard, others are as busier than ever. Sports hospitality and workplace catering services have been reduced of course, but schools have picked up and offshore has remained operational too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Despite all odds, it’s been great to see some weddings taking place at some of our venues. We’ve provided the catering for some stunning socially distanced weddings at Edinburgh Zoo over the last few months. We’re also back at the Zoo over the Christmas period providing festive catering for visitors to the Christmas Nights events, which look spectacular! It’s great to be back up and running in a Covid secure environment.

Innovation and agility are key. We’ve used this time to innovate, which will set us up to be a better and more sustainable business in the future. We are rolling out our Time to Eat app, enabling remote ordering and click and collect. We’ve also started working with Feedr, which allows people to order from their desks when in the office, whilst also focusing on health and nutrition, plus we have partnered with street food company KERB to widen our food offerings. We have created a range of Hospitality Hampers for virtual corporate events, students cooking at home, workplace offers and many more. We have also set up various webinars, virtual events and online resources. The most prevalent is the Super Yummy Kitchen YouTube channel, set up by Chartwells our education division. It offers home cook-alongs for children and families, offering education and informative recipes for families to try at home.

How is Brexit going to affect the business and what measures are you planning to take?

Like many businesses we want certainty, but we’ve been planning for all potential Brexit scenarios for some time and we’re feeling confident and prepared. We have a team dedicated to Brexit planning and they have invested in working closely with suppliers and clients.

We have a UK-first sourcing policy which means in practice, 80 per cent of what we serve is from within the UK, with the remainder largely comprising products which can’t be sourced from the UK like bananas and rice. In Scotland, we obviously have a focus on Scottish produce and we’re looking to further enhance our partnerships with Scottish suppliers.

Our aim is to minimise any disruption to our client’s service, so we’ll be reducing reliance on imported food, and we’re well-placed to adjust menus and implemented product switches if there are any shortage of supplies.

Compass has committed to the Real Living Wage – can you explain more about this decision and how can the hospitality sector continue to attract new talent?

This is something I can speak honestly and passionately about because when I joined the business I was only 19 and worked as a waiter. I quickly realised that with the support of the company I could find a great career within it. I was given many learning and development opportunities, including doing a business degree. It is through looking after people and giving them the opportunity and room for progression that we will retain talent.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Core to that is being one of a Recognised Service Provider by the Living Wage Foundation. Like others, we have pledged to pay all our direct workers the real Living Wage, as well as advocate with clients and potential clients the positive difference this step can make. Because of our size, this means we can make a difference for thousands of people while being an example for the industry.

Along with being the ‘right thing to do’, paying fairly helps us to attract and retain talent. We’re a people focussed business, and this is just one way we demonstrate our commitment to our teams.

You started at Compass at an early age - how did your career progress?

When I joined Compass Group UK & Ireland it was as a hospitality waiter at a prestigious banking client in Edinburgh. Since then, my career has taken a varied and interesting path! I was promoted to deputy hospitality manager on the same contract in 2000, which included high profile events for the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I stayed within the banking contract for 12 years, progressing through a number of roles until I became front of house operations manager, looking after catering, as well as cleaning and security.

After that I moved to another banking group contract as regional manager, and in 2012 I moved to our education catering specialist, Chartwells, working as the regional manager looking after Scotland and the North of England, until in 2017 I became Head of Operations at Chartwells Independent, covering the whole of the UK.

During this time, I completed a HIT Scotland Scholarship; attended the Swiss hospitality school, Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne; and Compass also supported me through a BA (Hons) Business Management degree.

What would you like Compass Scotland to look like in say two years’ time?

I hope the sector has recovered from the global pandemic and our industry will be throwing up new and interesting innovations. For our business, we’ll still be leading the way in the foodservice industry in Scotland. People choose to work with us, either because we offer innovative, sustainable and high-quality catering and support services, or because we are supportive of our suppliers and our employees. So, in two years’ time we will have more great Scottish suppliers and clients, as well as some fantastic results from the apprenticeship scheme.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sustainability is a priority for us, and I expect that in the next few years we’ll be focusing heavily on this, developing a reputation for changing the way catering is delivered. I’m particularly excited that COP26, the global climate change summit, will be taking part in Scotland next year. I hope that this will leave a lasting legacy in Scotland and inspire action on climate change.

All in all, our virtual cook-along launch has not just been about having fun, though that is something we all need at the moment. What the launch has done is demonstrate what’s on the horizon and how Compass Scotland is innovating on so many levels to help regenerate the hospitality sector in Scotland.

The 30-second CV

Born (year, place): 1978, Edinburgh

Education: Currie High School, Napier University

First job: Working in the café in House of Fraser

Ambition while at school: To play for Hearts

What car do you drive: VW Passat Estate

Favourite mode of transport: Walking

Music: I’m an Indie kid!

Kindle or book: Book

Reading material: Music biographies

Can’t live without: Coffee

What makes you angry: People dropping litter

What inspires you: Community – when people come together

Favourite place: West Sands, St Andrews

Best thing about your job: The people that I work with

Best business advice you’ve been given: Help others succeed

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.