Steve Loughton will hand back the company car and office keys at 5pm this evening as he officially brings down the curtain on a glittering 45-year career in the catering equipment industry.
But the boss of Hoshizaki UK isn’t planning on heading straight for the golf course or a Mediterranean beach just yet – instead he will wake up tomorrow and launch his own consulting enterprise aimed at helping young professionals grow their businesses and develop their skill-sets in what has become an increasingly “turbulent” environment.
Mr Loughton has given more than four decades of his life to the catering equipment sector, serving as an active member of CESA and EFCEM during a career that has seen him run major industry suppliers such as Enodis, Standex, Jestic and Hoshizaki.
Asked whether the industry he is retiring from feels like a completely different place to the one he started out in during the 70s, he replied: “I give a two-point answer to that, which is that in some ways many bits of it feel almost the same. Firstly, you can’t really remember back 40 odd years, but if I think about a lot of the people that I interact with on a day-to-day basis, or who have been my colleagues and mates for 20 years, then in that regard it feels exactly the same. These are people I have now known for a third of my life and it is very comforting and keeps your feet on the ground and all the rest of it.
“By the same token, I think that in the last half-decade we have gone through the most astonishing changes in the industry and most of that is not only around global consolidation but local consolidation. If you look at companies around the world, and I suppose the one that is most acquisitive at the moment of course is Middleby, the big are getting bigger, and the smaller are not necessarily getting smaller but they are getting niche and they are getting more focused.”
Mr Loughton said he will look back fondly on the relationships he has made in the industry and feels privileged to have met so many inspiring people during business trips to places such as North America, South Africa, the Middle East and Europe over the years.
He singles out his time at Welbilt Corporation in the early 90s, when the business went into Chapter 11, as possibly the most defining period of his career.
“We had one of those leveraged buyouts and it was a company called Kohlberg and Co that bought us. That was the most astonishing experience for me as a relatively new MD, to get pitch-forked into this high finance situation. I just learned so much about business and people and how to grow businesses at that stage of my career.”
Mr Loughton has spent the past two years heading up ice machine and refrigeration brand Hoshizaki’s UK business, providing a steady pair of hands at a time when the business integrated the Gram brand and restructured its operations.
Excited is an over-used phrase, but I’m genuinely looking forward to doing something completely different”
Recent weeks and months have been spent ensuring a smooth management handover, with former sales director and chain accounts head Simon Frost officially taking over the helm today. “The transition has been done and Simon is very much in place and I have to say that I couldn’t imagine handing over to a more capable, better person,” he said.
Mr Loughton said it had been a strange feeling building up to his last day in the office. “It’s funny – having moved from a few companies in the last seven or eight years, the final few days are quite interesting because people respect you and they want you, but actually they know that you’re yesterday’s man!” he smiles. “So you suddenly find that your email inbox drops off enormously while people are looking for the next person, but that’s great and perfectly normal.”
From 9am tomorrow, Mr Loughton will turn his attentions to a new business venture that he is launching called Cupola Consulting. He plans to provide mentoring services to professionals that need help realising their potential and growing their companies. “The way I describe it is that it is about discovering and developing personal and business success,” he explained.
He admits that while he never had ambitions to run his own business, he has come to view things differently as he has grown older.
“You start to look around, and you look at people that are perhaps younger than yourself – and it definitely isn’t that you find them wanting in any way, shape or form – and you think they could probably benefit from a lot of what I had coming through my career, which was certain managers, certain mentors, actually training you, helping you and growing you, even though they weren’t doing it formally.
“I think a lot of that has gone, partly because companies are quite stretched, time is so tight and profit – quite correctly – is so vital to all of these organisations, and there often isn’t time to either focus on more junior colleagues or for those junior colleagues to focus on themselves. I certainly don’t plan on this being a 9-5, five days a week thing, but I suspect it will consume a certain amount of my time. Excited is an over-used phrase, but I’m genuinely looking forward to doing something completely different.”