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When London chef Lee Streeton met Frenchman Erick Kervaon, a restaurant manager, on a two-week management development programme, little could they know that their lives would become inextricably linked.
But now the two have joined forces as part of the launch team for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in London’s Syon Park, which will open in March – Mr Kervaon as director of food and beverages and Mr Streeton as executive chef. Indeed, it was because Mr Kervaon knew Mr Streeton from the Accelerated Talent Development Programme, run by Cranfield School of Management in the UK, that he was able to persuade his former classmate to consider the chef’s job.
The Cranfield programme was no walk in the park for the pair, who admit they largely opted out of formal education when they were younger. For Mr Streeton, who says he started working in kitchens when he was 13, the structure of the management programme was particularly difficult.
“It was hard because you were in a class from nine in the morning and it’s a lot of using your brain ... I was confused about the whole course ... I didn’t leave that building for 13 days. It was like we were being rehabilitated to get back into society.”
He had other problems at Cranfield, too. “The food in the [business school] restaurant was driving me mad.”
On returning to Brown’s Hotel, where he then worked, it took Mr Streeton several weeks to make sense of what he had learnt.
Veronica Burke, director of Cranfield’s ATD programme, says the course is designed for managers who are strong in a functional role – from chefs to IT specialists – but need to broaden their skills in order to take on wider managerial responsibilities. The programme comprises two strands, the first of which is a traditional business development strand.
Perhaps surprisingly, the two food specialists speak with one voice when asked to describe the most interesting academic course. “Finance – I loved it,” says Mr Streeton. “The professor made it very easy to understand,” agrees Mr Kervaon.
The second strand of the programme, personal development, was more stressful as it involved participants analysing each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
“Lee was very much about ideas but lacked process,” says Mr Kervaon of his colleague. Mr Streeton responds: “He was the thinker. He would come up with the idea and then keep everyone focused on it.”
Though food and beverage specialists might notseem traditional business school participants, Cranfield has been working for a decade with the UK’s Worshipful Company of Innholders, which, with the Savoy Educational Trust, funds scholars on its programmes. More chefs are receiving management training as a result, says Ms Burke.
“What they want to do is about more than being a good chef; they want to make a contribution above and beyond the command and control of a normal kitchen.”
At the end of the 12-day programme at Cranfield, participants develop a 100-day action plan, returning three months later to Cranfield. They then develop a nine-month plan and return once more to the school a year after they first attended the programme.
What will Ms Burke expect from the two caterers when they return next month?
“I would expect them to be taking charge of their own development and to be setting themselves ambitious goals,” she says.
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Mr Kervaon has certainly done that. “My end goal is to be [vice-president] Europe. There is no timescale on that. My short-term goal is to make this [hotel and restaurant] a success.” He believes the Cranfield programme has helped him realise that. “If I help them [hotel owners and managers] achieve their agenda, it will help me achieve mine.”
Mr Streeton, who is now in charge of his own kitchen for the first time, has different ambitions.
“I’ve always worked in central London. Here we’ve got an orchard coming, we have a greenhouse, a herb garden and a smokery – we’re going to smoke our own meat and fish – and we have our own beehives. It’s about doing all that and it’s about a new project. I can put my mark on it.”