Mark Chalmers admits his ambition as a child didn’t quite match his capabilities and, on reflection, didn’t quite mirror his desire to improve the quality of life for other people.
“Well, I first wanted to be a professional golfer. That is, until I realised I had my ambitions mixed up with my capabilities,” he laughs. “Then I decided to become a lawyer, to fight for the underdog. But as I grew older and gravitated more towards a finance role, I knew I really wanted to work for companies that did good things. That’s probably why I spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry supporting products and businesses that help people do more, feel better and live longer.“
Improving the quality of life
“There’s probably a very clear link there between that and my role now with Sodexo, which is about improving the quality of life of our clients, consumers and employees. And, as a company that promises to improve quality of life, corporate responsibility is at the core of everything we do.”
Sodexo certainly does good things. It’s the world leader in quality of life services, delivering integrated facilities management services in 80 countries. Mark joined Sodexo as CFO in 2012 and earlier this year was appointed Australia’s Country President.
Sodexo was launched more than 50 years ago on the premise that the healthy performance of business and the wellbeing of its employees are reliant on quality of life. It is the 19th largest employer in the world, with 427,000 employees assisting 100 million people every day via 100 different services – provided in thousands of institutions, including schools, hospitals, retirement centres, corporate offices, mine sites, offshore oil rigs, the armed forces, sports and leisure facilities, and government and correctional facilities.
Mark arrived at Sodexo offering more than 30 years of experience in the facilities management and pharmaceutical industries, mostly in leadership roles integrating business and services for large national or multinational organisations. “We operate a matrix organisation at Sodexo, which is structured around client-facing business segments,” Mark explains. “The opportunity for me was to enable the business to be client-centric. We work with leaders of the different business segments and support functions to ensure we develop business in the right spaces. And that we are aligned as one Sodexo in Australia, while engaging with Sodexo businesses worldwide to leverage global offers and best practice.”
Launched in Australia in 1988, Sodexo operates primarily in remote sites servicing 270 clients. Mark oversees a team of 5,000 employees representing more than 75 professions and offering 100 services in sectors including corporate, seniors, education and defence industries, as well as mining and oil and gas, onshore and offshore.
Despite current revenue growing at around 45%, fuelled by entering new sectors and recent contract wins, Mark admits Sodexo faces many challenges as economic, demographic and social issues globally transform the way in which business is done. “There is plenty of disruption and plenty of challenges – I’d be kidding if I said there wasn’t,” Mark concedes. “There isn’t too much that happens in the world that isn’t going to happen in our sector as well.
Challenges, commitment and community
“The challenge for us is being able to respond to those changes. Things like demographic shifts, a growing population and longer life expectancy are all major impacts on healthcare costs, dependencies and the workforce, all of which we’re involved in. Environmental issues are another one; there are growing concerns there.”
Mark adds that a vital solution to disruption is the digital transformation needed to provide new opportunities to expand and personalise services to improve consumers’ quality of life. Sodexo has introduced various programs to support its strong corporate social responsibility. It is a zero-harm workplace, which includes both physical and mental health safety, and is committed to providing all employees with the best possible work-life experience regardless of age, gender, nationality, culture or personal characteristics.
Incorporated into its Better Tomorrow 2025 roadmap are nine commitments, which include improving the quality of life for employees; providing and encouraging consumers to access healthy lifestyle choices; fighting hunger and malnutrition; and reducing waste.
Another priority for Sodexo is giving back to the local Indigenous communities in locations where it operates. Through its Reconciliation Action Plan, the company honours local culture, traditions and heritage, and supports the development of individuals and local communities.
This year, during his short time as Country President, Mark has also overseen the launch of All of Me, an innovative new early-intervention tool to promote mental health and wellbeing.
“Safety is our number one priority and we consider mental health to be equally as important as physical health.” Mark explains. “A few years ago, we started to focus on mental health, recognising the extent of these issues that impact our whole community. We have continued to embed preventative measures and capabilities for mental health issues in the workplace, and introducing the All of Me tool is the next step in our integrated approach to mental health and wellbeing. All of Me is about mental health training and assessment. It’s an accessible digital solution with training modules to help our people increase their understanding of mental health. It’s also a non-confrontational way for individuals to seek support at any time.”
Unity in diversity
Mark describes Sodexo’s standing in the service industry as original and unique. From healthcare workers to receptionists, from electricians to chefs, he sees the company’s talented workforce providing the best possible experience for customers through teamwork and innovation. “We are a people company that touches the lives of 100 million consumers around the world on a daily basis. While we are able to continually deliver across the diverse segments we operate in – from energy and resources to justice, healthcare, corporate and education – we’re always trying to improve the quality of life for our own people. We’re attentive to their working conditions and committed to ensuring their safety, encouraging a constructive dialogue, and promoting diversity.”
For nine consecutive years, Sodexo has ranked in the top 10 of DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies, a competition launched in 2001 and open to companies with more than 1,000 American-based employees. “We try to match the diversity of our people with the diversity of our clients, and when I say diversity, I mean true inclusion. That’s a key part of our culture that triggers growth and innovation.
“Definitely, the cornerstone is inclusion. We include all our employees and eliminate the barriers around different or unrepresented groups. As an example, in our finance group, we have a team of 50 people incorporating 14 different nationalities. You get different inputs, different points of view, different experience – it works.”