Founded in 1966, Sodexo has grown into one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, providing more than 100 different food and facility management services in 67 different countries. The company is passionate about helping its customers live their safest, healthiest lives, and has brought this approach to life through its award-winning Mindful program as well as its on-the-go vending and micromarket programs. So, when COVID-19 struck, the company had to figure out just how to make their customer-focused business thrive in this new normal.
I sat down (virtually, of course) with Sodexo’s North America Chair and Homecare Worldwide CEO Sarosh Mistry to discuss how the company is supporting its communities during the crisis. From donations to charities to developing a Global Employee Relief Program, Sarosh shared how he’s leaned into his company’s values during this time, and how he thinks we’ll best come out of this looking forward.
Aaron Kwittken: What was the first thing you did to address the pandemic, not just for your employees but also for your customers?
Sarosh Mistry: The first thing that came to mind was the health and safety of our employees as well as our consumers. Keeping our people employed was something we thought of immediately. We also started thinking of what our operations are going to be like in this environment.
This crisis has highlighted the importance of our profession. Our people have always been unsung heroes, but now more than ever the service sector has come out of the shadows and into the spotlight, revealing the vital work that our dedicated team members provide day in and day out.
Kwittken: Speak more on that – it sounds like you had a pretty thorough plan in place for if a crisis like this were to occur.
Mistry: We have a disaster relief plan that we have in place, not only for each country, but for every state, catered to every sector… we had the unique advantage of being a global player, of actually operating in the hospitals of Wuhan, China, where this all started. We could take advantage of the learnings we had there. As we saw things unfold in China, we started making plans to ensure safety of our employees and business continuity.
Kwittken: I know that most companies – doing the best they can right now – have been leaning heavily on their companies’ values to get them through this. What core values of the company have you been leaning into to help guide you, your team and Sodexo employees through this crisis?
Mistry: That’s a great question. It’s all about, for us, the ability to give back to the communities in which we live and serve. We’ve also been able to innovate and execute in a very short period of time, whether it be having pop-up grocery stores, shifting to meal delivery, the community efforts we’ve had – those values have been ramped up as we take new approaches to the situation that we’re in.
Kwittken: Can you talk about the importance of the company’s values – how might they be the underpinning of the business and inform how Sodexo is able to currently respond to the crisis?
Mistry: Our values – that’s just who we are. It’s not just something we implement because these are the popular things to do right now, like driving sustainability. It’s something that’s engrained, part of our DNA, and is about how we operate our business. We’re not going to compromise those values for anything or under any circumstance. They were important to us, they are important to us, and they will remain important to us as we move into the future.
Kwittken: What’s one thing that’s fundamentally changed about your business as a result of this crisis for the better?
Mistry: The level of agility that we’ve witnessed in the past six weeks has been truly amazing. And it shows that when we’re put in a situation like this, we have the ability to do that. We have the ability to be very nimble, to go back to our entrepreneurial roots and see that’s what made us so successful in the first place. We’re seeing the importance of not being caught up in the rules and bureaucracy that we as leaders have created. At an executive level, we’ve been asking ourselves: How do we take these learnings and make sure they stay in place so that the organization remains agile?
This crisis has broken down silos. When you have a crisis like this, the team comes together. People aren’t worried about who gets credit. It’s about them saying “Let’s get it done so our employees are safe. Let’s get it done so our consumers are fed and healthy.” Those learnings have been pivotal, and we need to make sure we parlay that into how we do things moving forward.