Kerwin Higashi easily admits his surprise that Sodexo won the title of NACAS 2014 Outstanding Business Partner of the Year.
More than anything, though, it was the fact that someone had cared enough to take time out of a busy schedule to make the nomination.
“We had no idea our partner would do such a thing,” said Higashi, Sodexo vice president. “It was huge. And we were very humbled.”
That nominating partner was Raymond Dennis, associate vice president of auxiliary management and business affairs at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles, California. Sodexo partners with Loyola Marymount to provide dining services for 7,000 LMU customers. And each quarter, Higashi said, the company challenges itself to improve on services provided. In 2013, for example, among other initiatives, Sodexo helped LMU became the first Catholic Jesuit University in the nation to earn the Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody certification distinction, marking both sustainability and traceability in seafood. Sodexo also worked with LMU to earn a coveted four-star status for its Lair Marketplace from the Green Restaurant Association. And it incorporated baked goods from Homeboy Industries, a Los-Angeles based organization that offers job skills as an alternative to gang violence.
“Sodexo has shown an extreme willingness and flexibility to partner with the university on a number of different social justice, community, and environmental issues that have been critical to our mission and values,” Dennis said. “They have gone above and beyond.”
Dennis sees Sodexo as a company of true “servant leadership,” he said, and the partnership goes back more than 30 years. Overall, the North American arm of Sodexo serves 15 million consumers each day.
“We’re a solutions company,” Higashi said. “And when I say ‘solutions,’ that means we can provide services to our client partners that involve everything outside of the classroom. Everything from dining services to bookstores to facilities management to energy services to transportation. All of those ancillary, auxiliary services that support what goes into the education process, that’s what we deliver.”
Sodexo follows seven pillars of creating exceptional student experiences:
- Student insights. That means “really understanding the students that are attending Loyola Marymount or whatever college or university we serve,” Higashi said.
- Health and wellness, including dining services. “Sometimes people think it’s just for satisfaction, but it’s also about nutrition.”
- Service. “It used to be that dining services were open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Friday, and maybe two meals on Saturdays. But today, it’s continuous, open access, 24-hour dining. Managers like myself used to be able to go home at a decent hour, but now the job is around the clock, and you have to want to do that, to have the heart to serve.”
- The environment. “Today, there’s a lot of talk about the environment,” Higashi said. “Not only sustainable practices or recycling, but also what type of service ware you’re using, about conserving water, converting equipment to reduce consumption of energy. We’re using compostable products, and breaking it down in the dish room so that if it does have to go to a landfill, it’s done in smaller pieces.”
- Innovation. “You have to constantly innovate,” he said. “This generation expects it.”
- Measured results. “We have to be accountable and transparent to our students, our customers, and our partners.”
- Common good. “Basically, that’s all about giving back to the communities that we serve through doing volunteer work.” Sodexo has made significant strides toward ending childhood hunger, among other efforts.
“The leadership of Sodexo wants to do the right thing because it is the right thing,” Dennis said. “Not just because it makes the right amount of money. When we move on, we want to be able to know that we were able to positively impact the world we live in. And they do a great job at that. That philosophy runs from the CEO to the person who’s working in the kitchen.”