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Wed 10 Apr 2019 03:29 PM

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It's all about the timing for French firm Sodexo

If the circumstances prove right, the chairwoman of the board of directors of Sodexo, Sophie Bellon, says that she would like to grow her company's presence in the region with big events and exhibitions such as Expo 2020 Dubai beckoning on the horizon

It's all about the timing for French firm Sodexo
Sophie Bellon was appointed to succed her father as the company’s chairwoman in January 2016

Headquartered in Dubai Silicon Oasis, Sodexo Middle East has been delivering quality of life services in the United Arab Emirates and wider region since 1984. In 2019, the French Company, through parent firm Sodexo, plans to expand its scope of work in the GCC region and specifically in the United Arab Emirates.

Having successfully provided services ranging from food services, reception and cleaning to construction management, asset maintenance, security and grounds maintenance for clients in offices, schools and hospitals, Sodexo is keen get involved in projects that will help grow its brand in the region.

Sophie Bellon, chairwoman of Sodexo, visited the UAE recently to further understand the region and plot its growth outside of the USA, a market that represents 45% of the French Company’s global sales.

What is the correlation between Sodexo positioning itself as a ‘quality of life’ provider and Dubai’s Happiness Agenda?

Although it is a very encouraging sign, it is not the main reason we are here in the United Arab Emirates and why we want to grow. We came here to understand what’s happening in the market. The UAE is a very interesting place and the market is growing very fast.

As a global company, we have to adapt to all those changes. When I say adapt it means that although we have always been a B2B business, today it is the consumers who are driving the market and making decisions, whether it is at schools or in hospitals. Consumers today know exactly what they want. And in a country like the UAE, we have to adapt faster than in other countries.  So just like any big organisation, we also have to adapt to the disruption of the world when it comes to things like digitalisation, which is very prevalent here, and that’s also very important.

There has been a lot of co-operation between the UAE and the French governments recently. How Does that affect your view of the region?

For us, we are looking at other regions the same way. We are looking at some parts of Asia the same way. The reason is because when we are somewhere, it’s good at some point to reenergize or bring in a new dynamic. That’s part of what we are trying to do here in the UAE. We have been here for a very long time so we are already convinced about the potential here and the fact that we are happy to do business here has not changed. But sometimes you need to step back and ask the question ‘What are we going to do differently now?’ Our team today is at that phase.

We also have some changes in the management recently and we hired some new people. So we were here for those reasons. All these are good developments because new people mean new ideas and that’s what we want to tap into.

Do you have plans to grow this region’s share of your revenues or profit?

We don’t have an objective of a certain percentage that we want to grow that share to. We don’t have a specific target. But we have a three or five year objective to increase the size of the business and especially that coming from the region significantly.

In some countries like France for example, where we have big presence, the growth isn’t so fast. There are some opportunities but the market is very competitive. That doesn’t mean we don’t have potential.

Today our organic growth is at two percent. It’s not sufficient, and it has been impacted by the USA where we didn’t have very big growth in the last few years, especially since the USA represents 45% of our sales globally.

However, it’s also important to note that we have double digit growth in some countries such as Brazil. And we believe that in the UAE we can also have double digit growth. That’s what we are aiming at.

There are a number of large global events expected to be held in the UAE and GCC in general, how much are you willing to be a part of those?

These big events are very specific. In Sodexo we have a special team working on these events. For example, we worked in the London Olympics. We also worked om the Rugby World cup in France, in New Zealand and in England, and we are going to do the one in Japan next year. So we are willing to take the risk in the sense that we have done it before. We are willing to take the risk here too. But at the same time we cannot take all the risks.

The contacts we have at Expo 2020 Dubai know us because we worked at the London Olympics and so they know that we are quite capable of managing events of that scale. So I think we are willing to take the plunge, but we cannot jump in blindly, we need to make take calculated risks.

What is the significance of Expo 2020 Dubai for you?

The Expo 2020 Dubai is interesting for Sodexo, because they know that we know how to deal with risks. This is a very specific event. They know we won’t just go blindly in any kind of project.

Of course Expo 2020 Dubai can be a big opportunity especially for six months, but we are also quite mindful of our medium- and long-term goals and plans in the region.

At this point it’s probably important to mention that the company I oversee was created by my family, but with my brothers and sisters I have made a commitment; today my family holds 42% of the shares and 58% of the voting rights.

Why is that important? It means that we are independent. Financial independence is important because it allows us to have a medium and long term strategy. It allows us to keep our mission and our value because it is very important for us. It allows us to keep the management and to grow and develop the team.

We not here just for Expo 2020 Dubai for 6 months to then go somewhere else. Yes it’s an opportunity, but if we are here, then we need to think about growing the business in a sustainable way. Yes Expo 2020 Dubai is important but as Sodexo, we look at education and healthcare and even the corporate world; how do we approach that market differently, with innovation, this is the way that we see things.

Are there any challenges to a French company such as yours operating in a rapidly growing city like Dubai?

We have to do things the right way. That’s what we have been doing so far and that’s how we have become a world leader in our business. But absolutely, if we can find a way to work on more things here, with private businesses or the government, not just for Expo 2020 Dubai but also for the legacy business after that, then it would be very great. When you look at all the investment and the innovation; it feels like it could grow to be really exciting to be part of that.

The presence of Sodexo

Operating in 72 countries, Sodexo is the global leader in improving ‘quality of life’ through over 100 services reaching more than 100 million consumers per day.

Founded in Marseille in 1966 by Pierre Bellon, the global firm has grown to span sectors as diverse as foodservices to construction management, reception services to the maintenance of scanners and laboratory equipment, technical maintenance to leisure cruises, and housekeeping to rehabilitation services at correctional facilities. Globally, the organization has a market capitalization of 14.7 billion euros.

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