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November 05
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Diversity In Action

Sodexho provides outsourced diversity

The management services company needs facilities management engineers with five to six years of experience and a BS in ME, EE or IE


Sodexho's John Lee: actively promoting the career development of employees.

Sodexho's John Lee: actively promoting the career development of employees.

Engineers at Sodexho Inc oversee day-to-day facilities management issues for about 200 clients across North America. They're an important component in the corporate mission to work closely with clients on site, says John Lee, director of college and external relations with Sodexho's Acquisition Group.

"Retention is very important to us. Our goal is to retain at least 95 percent of our clients each year. So building a long-term relationship with the client is key," Lee says. That means that general managers who oversee maintenance and engineering on site must be good at building positive relationships.

Sodexho Inc, a subsidiary of Sodexho Alliance, is the largest food and facilities management provider in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It has about 6,000 clients overall. It provides outsourced services to companies, healthcare facilities, long-term care centers, retirement communities, schools and colleges, remote sites and the military. For example, Sodexho is the official food service provider for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The primary responsibility for Sodexho engineers is facilities management, which often includes plant operations and maintenance. Some engineers also have energy management and other facilities maintenance responsibilities. They work in all the places where Sodexho has maintenance and engineering contracts, mostly in the company's healthcare and education divisions.

The engineers Sodexho brings in make up about 10 percent of the total North American business, Lee says. They have degrees like IE, ME and EE. In hospitals, Sodexho clinical engineers oversee maintenance of biomedical and other technical equipment.

Engineers at Sodexho need certifications to meet local and state codes. For example, healthcare general managers must meet standards of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospitals. Most of Sodexho's openings for general managers of maintenance and engineering require five to six years of experience. The percentage of new college grads, though still small, is growing, Lee says. "Our aim is to develop them for future growth."

The number of Sodexho employees at each site depends on client needs. An on-site Sodexho GM may manage the client's own employees, or the entire group or department may be Sodexho staff. "We prefer to find managers locally if at all possible, but of course we will relocate talent when necessary," Lee explains.

The length of time a manager spends on a specific job usually depends on the client. "It's important to provide consistent service, so when people are promoted to department heads or general managers, they usually stay on that job at least two or three years."

Sodexho has its own corporate IT staff, responsible for the entire company. Of course the company also supplies internal IT consulting to its clients, with pros who work out of field support centers. Their work ranges from setting up and maintaining entire software systems, to teaching a hospital dietitian to use her new hand-held computer.

"We've worked with proprietary systems, and we've developed some systems of our own," Lee notes.

Sodexho actively pushes the career development of its employees. The company's career center posts management positions, of which a thousand or more may be available at a given time. The corporation uses succession planning and other career development tools to help successful managers move into middle and upper management jobs.

Sodexho trains its managers and employees for each client job. Beyond that, the corporation has Sodexho University, where employees can obtain a BS, MS or even a PhD. Sodexho U is accredited through the University of Action Learning (London, England), a program similar to those at the University of Phoenix.

Diversity is important to Sodexho. In 2000 the company brought in Dr Rohini Anand as senior VP and chief diversity officer. She sparked the launch of "a tremendous amount of diversity resources and training," Lee says.

For example, network groups have been developing for several years. They include the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), the Pan Asian Network Group (PANG), People Respecting Individuality Diversity and Equality (PRIDE, a group for gay and lesbian employees), the Sodexho Organization of Latinos (SOL) and the Women's Network Group (WING).

The groups are national, with regional chapters that work across business lines, Lee says. He notes that the company distributes job alerts through the network groups as part of its overall diversity effort.

Network groups get involved in everything from self-development and mentoring programs to community service and volunteering. "We work with community food banks and with Feeding the Future, a nutritional program for disadvantaged children in the summer when school programs are shut down," Lee says.

Sodexho also has a program called "heroes of everyday life," which recognizes employees who make unique contributions to the community on their own.

Diversity councils at Sodexho are organized by business line and geography. The company's operating divisions also have diversity directors who extend the program through their organizations.

A mentoring program with a diversity focus was recently launched. And Sodexho is rolling out an extensive redo of its employee referral program, which Lee says is a key area for recruiting more diverse candidates.

"Overall, Sodexho has a tremendous opportunity for growth in its facilities management business," Lee declares. "This translates into career growth opportunities for its managers and employees."


Sodexho Inc

Headquarters: Gaithersburg, MD
Employees: 120,000 (more than 14,000 in management)
Revenues: $6 billion in 2004
Business: Food and facilities management services


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