Managing through an unprecedented crisis

Published on : 3/8/21
  • As we navigated through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Rachid Noujeim - CEO Sodexo, Middle East speaks to Gulf News about how we continued to deliver services in a difficult environment, while keeping employees at the center of what we did.

    You mention a fund being set up – was it your own funds (gratuity) or did you tap into bank loans to do so? What was the size of the fund?

    As we navigated through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our colleagues continued to work, supporting critical sites and delivering vital services. However, some others were affected because of partial or full client site closures or temporary suspension of services. In order to support employees through these difficult times, Sodexo initiated the Employee Relief Program (ERP) across its global presence. An amount of  €30 million was raised by the Sodexo Senior Leadership Team.

    • Sodexo Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Sophie Bellon waived 50% of her remuneration over the past six months of the last fiscal year,
    • Group CEO Denis Machuel waived 50% of his fixed remuneration over the last six months as well as his variable remuneration for Fiscal 2020,
    • Group Executive Committee members gave up 10% of their fixed remuneration over the last six months as well as their annual variable remuneration for fiscal 2020,
    • The 200 senior executives from all segments and operations around the world also waived their annual variable remuneration.
    • In addition, group senior leaders waived off 50% of their variable remuneration for fiscal year 2020

    What was the stated purpose of having this fund? How did that help stabilize your workforce retention strategy?

    From the very first signs of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, Sodexo Middle East began mobilizing resources to ensure our employees and our consumers stay safe and healthy. This would not have been possible without the dedication of our frontline colleagues, whom we are extremely proud of and while some of our frontline colleagues continued to deliver services during these challenging times, others were facing the impact of partial or complete site closures and temporary suspension of services.

    At Sodexo, we recognize that our employees have stood by us at all times and it was our turn to stand by them. Initially, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, however, had to be prepared in terms of resources to mobilize the sites that were temporarily suspended if the situation improved. In line with our commitment as an employer and as a partner to our clients, Sodexo set up the Employee Relief Program globally.

    Through the ERP and other initiatives such as the redeployment of our colleagues from sites that were impacted to other sites where the demand for services increased manifold, we managed to retain 85% of our employees.

    When was the fund set up? Were you going by any precedence?  

    The fund was set up in early April 2020. There were definitely no similar situations in the past 50 years… so we cannot say we went by any precedence.

    Now that the COVID situation has stabilized, will you be closing the fund? Who oversaw its management?

    The ERP was set up for a six-month duration until the end of the fiscal year 2020, and was managed at a regional level based on specific criteria set by the group. In line with the Middle East’s focus on health and safety initiatives, such as the vaccination drive, businesses are picking up pace and most of our colleagues are back to work.

    In these 12 months, have you picked up any major contracts?

    The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly created a need for specialized, contactless solutions from organizations that have a clear reputation of being focused on health and safety not momentarily but always. At Sodexo, we understand this well and our experience across the globe and regionally with clients who are industry leaders has resulted in us coming up with solutions like Rise with Sodexo a systematic, comprehensive approach that is customized for each client, prioritizing safety, wellbeing, and productivity in a COVID-19 world, so that everyone can get back to their business safely and at the earliest. This has not only led us to win key contracts in healthcare, education and the energy and construction sectors, but also helped us increase the scope of what we do with our existing clients.

    It is being said the FM sector in Dubai is under intense pressure because of cashflow issues. Please share your comments on this.

    Today’s economic situation coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic and an already competitive FM market is certainly affecting cashflows. Unlike past crises that have affected a particular industry, the global pandemic has affected all industries alike, some more than the others. There is no doubt that in these situations all clients tend to minimize spending, reduce budgets and delay payments… This is exactly the added value that Sodexo brings to its clients and prospects. Innovations, new trusted solutions, global expertise in different areas, with the benefit of having all these in financially competitive environments. For us at Sodexo, thanks to the global expertise, strong fundamentals, and robust internal governance protocols, we are coping with the situation well.


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