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Jane Cookson – WiHTL Index of Women to Watch 2021

Insights |  12.20.2021

This week WiHTL launched their third annual Women to Watch Index. The 2021 Index highlights the profiles of dozens of women distinguished for their commercial and operational excellence, industry and social impact, achievements, resilience and commitment to the industry. Here at Aramark, we are extremely proud that two of our Operations Directors, Jane Cookson and Sharon Goldthorpe have very deservedly made the list.

Jane gives an insight into her career to date, including what diversity means to her and advice on joining the sector. You can also read Sharon’s interview in a blog featured early this week.


Jane Cookson, Director of Operations, Aramark

When I graduated, I thought I was going to work in finance. I applied for the Finance Graduate Scheme at British Airways but ended up on the Catering Scheme. As soon as I joined the airline, I knew that catering was my first love. I stayed at BA for about three years, before taking up a role at another smaller airline looking after all catering products which really kicked off my management career. From there I moved to the RHS reporting into the executive board. Although it was a different type of catering, I learnt that good food is good food, no matter whether you’re sitting on an aeroplane or coming to a garden for afternoon tea!

 Following the RHS, I was looking for a role in catering operations but was talked into a sales role at The NEC Group. After earning my stripes selling, I joined Compass in a sales and retention role, before taking up the opportunity as Director of Operations at Aramark. The company has recently reorganised from a regional to sector led approach. As part of the new structure my team of just under 200 has almost doubled in size. The team and I are sector specialists in education, providing school and college meals, an area of the business that continues to expand and I’m incredibly excited about this next chapter. In the last few months alone, we have won and retained a number of contracts including our first independent school.


What would you say to your younger self?

I’d say believe in yourself. I often received feedback that I was too emotional, or that I wore my heart of my sleeve, which really dented my confidence. I’ve learnt over the years that you can be yourself and still be a great leader. In fact, being a human being and recognising that you can’t be strong all the time is key to great leadership.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I had a really fantastic boss at RHS, and I do remember him saying to me as a youngster, “Jane, the art of management is to make a decision. You will not always make the right decision, but you’ve got to make it.” That was the moment in my career when I realised what true leadership was.


What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

I think it’s about building a team with a range of different skills and backgrounds and recognising that it is those differences which add up to a really fantastic team which can deliver.


What would you say to women looking to enter the HTL sector?

The main message for women is: it doesn’t matter where you are in your career. Perhaps you’re young and you’re starting out or maybe you’re older, you’ve had children and you’re thinking about a new career. You can start in hospitality at any time.  As long as there is a willingness to learn and a passion for delivering great food and experiences, then you will go far. One of the reasons I enjoy working at Aramark is because there are so many opportunities to grow and progress.


These interviews were captured and featured by the fantastic team at WiHTL, as part of their report