London is his oyster

Uttermost executive enjoys the city’s sites and pubs

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Mark Foster purchases an Oyster card as soon as he gets to London. The card has nothing to do with eating preferences but rather with travels on buses, trams or the subway, known as the “Tube.”  “I always try to take a day or two to sightsee,” he explains. “I use the cards to travel back and forth.”

Foster, international sales manager for Rocky Mount-based Uttermost, travels to London at least three times a year to meet with customers, distributors, interior designers and architectural design firms.

His company sells to Can­­­ada, Puerto Rico, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “We have grown the international side of the business significantly in the last decade,” says Mac Cooper, Uttermost’s president and CEO.  “We sell quite a bit to Europe. We have three different distributors there and we participate in a lot of trade shows in England, Spain, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy.”

Roughly 10 percent of the company’s $100 million-plus business comes from international sales.

In the recent past, one of the company’s biggest success stories has occurred in the Middle East. Uttermost provides contemporary and ornate home furnishing accessories, wall décor and lighting fixtures for large building projects such as universities and timeshare developments. “We started doing business there in the early 1990s, but recently it has become more significant,” Cooper says. “A lot of our business is done through architectural design firms who design and help develop projects in the Middle East.”

Uttermost provided items for the King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Middle Eastern projects, especially those in Saudi Arabia, are usually large in scope. 

“They talk in terms of $2 billion or $4 billion for complete projects like the new universities,” Cooper says. “Uttermost sees between $1 million and $3 million per project. We are a small part of the total pie.”

When he does get time to sightsee, Foster uses his Oyster card to get to Westminster Station where he can tour Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, a large circular structure similar to a Ferris wheel that provides an aerial view of London. “Buckingham Palace is within walking distance of Westminster Station, as well,” Foster says.

Another way to view London is to ride a riverboat around the city. “It’s the easiest way to sightsee, and it’s inexpensive,” Foster says.

For fun, he checks out Piccadilly Circus, a gateway to entertainment and shopping districts in London’s West End. The area is filled with pubs, restaurants and theaters. “It’s a good walking area,” Foster says. “You can go around the corner and see something you would see in a magazine. It has everything you could want.” 

The city’s economy
London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is a major financial district that includes the London Stock Exchange. England’s economic landscape is diverse with everything from pharmaceuticals and finance to aerospace and tourism. Millions of tourists visit London, making it England’s largest tourism center. Companies headquartered in London include AstraZeneca, a leading pharmaceutical company with products such as Crestor, Nexium and Symbicort; Barclays, a major global financial services provider; British Airways, an international airline; Freed of London, which hand makes about 250,000 pairs of dance shoes each year; and United Biscuits, manufacturer of cookies and cakes.

Where to eat
Mark Foster enjoys visits to London’s taverns and pubs. “I often stay in the Hammersmith area, and I like the Ram’s Head Pub,” he says. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about pubs is that you have to go to the bar and order your food and drink.” His favorite pub food includes fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. When Foster entertains customers, he’ll often choose Chez Kristof, an upscale restaurant that features steak and fish. “It’s located in a residential area,” he says. “It has a good variety of food and part of the restaurant is outdoors.” If you want a unique experience, check out Beach Blanket Babylon in Notting Hill. It serves European food in a baroque atmosphere.

Where to stay
London offers a wide choice of hotels and bed and breakfasts. One of the more stylish B&B’s is 41 in Westminster. The five-star B&B includes breakfast and afternoon tea. If you prefer a boutique hotel, plan a visit to the Bermondsey Square Hotel, which is near trendy bars and cafes. The hotel has a 1960s-type theme with some one-of-a-kind guestrooms. If you want pure luxury, check out The Dorchester on Park Lane in the center of London’s Mayfair where you may bump into a celebrity or British royalty.

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