“Our people are the heartbeat of our business” – Q&A with David Fox, Managing Director of Sodexo Ireland

CEO Q&A, Interviews, Irish News | Wed 7 Jul | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: David Fox, managing director, Sodexo Ireland

Founded in 1966 in Marseille, France, David Fox is the current managing director of Sodexo Ireland. He took on the role at the beginning of the pandemic, having to adapt the company to COVID. Fox explained how the business strives to create the best possible experience for both their customers and employees.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role? 

We provide integrated workplace services to clients in business and industry, tech, education, pharma and healthcare, with a core value to improve the quality of life of those we serve. 

Most organisations are now working through how best to transform their workplaces, including moving to a hybrid working model.  I’m having many virtual conversations about how we can support their workplace strategy and design. How, through strategic consideration, we can enhance their employee experience, digital transformation of services and smart building management. My focus for the immediate future is sharing our insights and expertise, to support clients to implement solutions that are right for their business now, and into the future.

What are your biggest challenges in this role?

Our people are the heartbeat of our business and have been instrumental during the pandemic, supporting our clients and our consumers, so I’ve missed not being able to meet them face to face. Virtual team meetings have been incredibly valuable, but it will never replace the human connection that you get from visiting sites and walking the corridors. I am looking forward to getting back to that as soon as is possible.    

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated? 

For me, it’s most important to celebrate and reward individual and team success – that’s a regular agenda item on our monthly townhall meetings and our annual UK&I Spirit of Sodexo awards. 

I take every chance I can to talk to employees about their career ambitions and identifying ways to help bring them to life, through mentoring and coaching programmes, upskilling and further education programmes          

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Workplace transformation is top of the boardroom agenda right now. It is critical that we can provide organisations with the most up to date insights and trends to enable them to make the right strategic investments now to ensure their success long-term. Technology is a great enabler, but it is important not to lose sight of maintaining the human experience amid technological advancement.  Face to face connections are critical to productivity and innovation, so finding the right balance is important for every organisation.

“Technology is a great enabler, but it is important not to lose sight of maintaining the human experience amid technological advancement

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Today, consumers are looking for the same experience whether at work, or at home.  That experience is built around flexibility, convenience, efficiency. 

Focused on improving the quality of life, regardless of location, Sodexo is innovating to develop new offers for clients. This includes concierge services to support people’s day to day needs, while they are busy at work and new food offers, with technology for on-demand ordering to enhance speed and convenience.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

There is no doubt that Covid has impacted the hospitality industry hugely, with many chefs and middle management having moved into other sectors during the pandemic. 

From an industry perspective, it will be important to attract these people back.  Sodexo is currently supporting several industry recruitment programmes, providing career advice and talks to people who want to move into the hospitality market and take advantage of the many exciting opportunities in the industry.     

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

As organisations move towards hybrid working models, they are looking for more flexible and cost-effective support services. Supporting employee health and wellbeing is also a big focus area right now.

We have just launched Fooditude into the Dublin market.  Fooditude is a fantastic business, producing fresh, healthy, and fun food options which can be pre-ordered from an off-site kitchen and then delivered directly to a client workplace. Fooditude enables companies to scale up or down depending on fluctuating employee numbers on site.  And importantly, they don’t need to have a dedicated kitchen on site which can also bring cost savings and in turn, support workplace design and strategy at a time when a large proportion of clients are considering a footprint reduction.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?  

Success in our business is team achievement and because of a strong culture of customer service, transparency and honesty.  We are actively committed to our diversity and inclusion programmes, so it’s about ensuring all opinions and ideas are heard, then working together to achieve a goal.    

We recently mobilised a very large multi-service integrated facilities management contract, with new technologies and new food offers. The feedback received to date has been incredible, that’s thanks to the team and their hard work throughout. 

“We are actively committed to our diversity and inclusion programmes, so it’s about ensuring all opinions and ideas are heard

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business? 

A mentor of mine once said that people’s perception is their reality, right or wrong. I’ve never lost sight of that.  Equally I think it’s important to never lose touch with your roots and always take time to listen and ask questions of your team – that’s when the best insights are found. Never be afraid to put your hand up and ask.  Being willing to learn every day is key to success.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Having the opportunity to take on the role of Managing Director for Sodexo Ireland, during Covid-19!  

On taking up the role, I met with all our clients virtually.  The positive feedback I have received about how our on-site teams have worked throughout Covid, the resilience and agility demonstrated as situations changed, that has made me very proud.    

On a personal note, it was great to be able to support the Focus Ireland Shine a Light Night last October.  As a dad to three small children, it’s important to me that they understand the importance of supporting those who are not as fortunate as we are, for whatever reasons.

What’s next for your company

Number one will always be a continued focus on keeping our clients and our people safe.  We will be at the forefront of  innovation in integrated workplace services, with flexible, digitally enabled service options, to match consumer need.

Given the critical importance of building a climate resilient future, supporting clients to reduce their environmental impact through the development of smarter, greener, buildings in which to operate.