Fiona Berkin made her biggest leadership move with industrial catering company Morris Corporation, opting for higher quality service over cost cutting in a bid to boost reputation and attract clients. The company’s CEO has now secured a $14 million contract to service Incitec Pivot’s Moranbah mine, adding to around 30 projects Australia-wide.

THE end justifies the means for Morris Corporation CEO Fiona Berkin, with an attitude that results speak for themselves in business, as long as employees are treated well.

“I think I’m very practical and work-focused, but results-focused rather than process-focused – I don’t care how you get the result, but you have to be with your people while their on that journey,” she says.

“You have to show a lot of patience, working with people and training them, but at an arm’s length. You don’t want to smother them as they’ll have their own leadership styles too.”

After 13 years with the company where she started off as a marketing assistant, Berkin took the CEO job five years ago and instigated policies to boost service, while ever-mindful of employee satisfaction.

“Ultimately the purpose of our company is to ensure growth and continue to improve the quality of life of our employees and members in terms of their well being, their working relationships and their personal finances,” she says.

“If we’re successful in achieving that then we’d like to see our clients recognise the fact. It’s unique and it’s innovative, as there’s got to be more to running a company than just making money.”

But making money is exactly what Morris Corporation has been doing lately. Last financial year it recorded 100 per cent profit growth and a 30 per cent rise in revenue, but she expects a more static year for FY10.

“We’re expecting similar revenue growth to this year, but I couldn’t comment on profit at this stage. We’ll likely see the result of our tender activity in the next financial year,” says Berkin.

“A lot of last year’s growth came from clients deciding to consolidate contracts, so whilst we may not have won a hell of a lot of extra work, the clients we worked for got rid of smaller contractors and got us to do all their work.

“I’ve been driving our price strategy so we could afford to provide services that were necessary and to increase the business’ reputation – so far it’s been working.”

What do they do?

While Morris Corporation provides industrial hospitality to the resource and construction industries in Australia, Berkin says the definition of the company’s tasks is ‘very broad’.

“People often call us a catering company but we’re much more than that, providing accommodation and services as a complete resort service to remote areas where people fly-in, fly-out,” she says.

“If there’s an airport, we provide in-flight meals, deal with the baggage handling and basically provide complete airport management.”

With any given project the company may need to bring 200 staff to a remote area where logistics are difficult but clients want fast results.

“We’re absolute experts in mobilisation, and fast mobilisation, as clients often want you to do it yesterday – even the linen is an issue,” she says.

“If you’re supplying to 500 people you can’t just buy it. It has to be made for you and that can take up to five weeks.”

Berkin took on the CEO role after it became apparent that owner Robert McVicker would mainly concentrate on catering for the Camp Cropper detention centre in Iraq, supplying 6000 meals a day.

The facility has received heavy criticism for alleged human rights abuses and is where Saddam Hussein spent the last days before his execution.

But closer to home, Morris Corporation continues to net contracts in a less-controversial setting, with Berkin at the helm.

“We’ve just recently won two jobs – one is the Incitec Pivot mine in Moranbah which will be worth $14 million over two years, but the other contract is still not confirmed,” she says.

“In the past we’ve been involved in road building and bridge building projects and we often are involved in the construction of mines too – we get in first while the construction is happening and remain for the production.

“Our scope is huge for Australia – in Queensland we work from Townsville down to Rockhampton, but inland, we have an events conference centre in Hobart and we’re all over Western Australia, from Ravensthorpe about 20km from the south coast, to quite high in the Pilbara.”

Berkin’s self-confessed ‘unstructured’ approach appears to be working, but as a leader what she most wants is a chance to step back and think strategically.

“You can get bogged down in the day-to-day operational side of the business and it’s hard to step back and look at the business from a strategic perspective,” she says.

“You should spend 80 per cent of your time looking strategically and leave 20 per cent of your time to managing operations, but if you turn the table with 20 per cent of time devoted to strategy, I don’t believe I’ve got there yet but I’m striving to.”

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