Sodexo founder and chairman emeritus Pierre Bellon, who early on recognized the huge potential of the corporate services sector, died in Paris on Jan. 31. He was 92.
Sodexo described its founder as a “visionary entrepreneur who was passionate about management, human development and the development of companies.” Today, the company he envisioned and started is a world leader in “quality-of-life” services that operates in 56 countries, employs 412,000 associates and serves daily some 100 million people.
Sophie Bellon, chairwoman of Sodexo’s board of directors and interim chief executive, said, “[My] father was free spirit who was never afraid of taking risks. He raised us, my sisters Nathalie and Astrid, my brother François-Xavier and myself, to believe that nothing is impossible. He taught us humility, curiosity, respect and courage. He was obsessed with the long term, but he was also very hands-on. Nothing made him happier than spending time with our teams on site. The mission and values of service spirit, team spirit and spirit of progress which he gave Sodexo are part of our fundamental principles and will continue to guide the group.”
Born in 1930, Bellon graduated from French business school HEC and began his career in his father's maritime supply company in Marseilles, his hometown. He foresaw the sector's decline and decided to take charge of transforming the family business to create a hospitable experience around the lunch table that enhances quality of life.
Following through on that vision he started in 1962 a new corporate catering business model in France. He established Repas Service, a small meal delivery business serving the Marseilles area. Four years later he established Sodexho SA (renamed Sodexo in 2008).
“I quickly realized that the only way to satisfy the contradictory expectations of our clients, personnel and shareholders was growth,” Bellon once said. “That's why, even before I founded my company, I decided that it would be a growth company."
Bellon embraced the challenge of international development to make his vision a reality. He also chose to diversify toward high-potential opportunities, purchasing French meal coupon companies Ticket Repas and Chèque Restaurant in the early 1980s. Sodexo's long-term vision and financial independence, controlled by a family holding company, are still among the its guiding principles.
Sodexo experienced strong growth and was listed on the Paris Stock Exchange in 1983 and joined the CAC40 in 1998. Bellon became a key figure in the service sector, foreseeing that the future of employment and economic development in France lay primarily in those professions.
Beyond his strategic vision, Bellon's humanist perspective also contributed to the company's success. His desire to have a positive impact in the world and be a responsible contributor touched local communities.
Bellow was national president of the Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants (Center for Young Business Leaders) from 1968 to 1970 and vice president of Movement of the Enterprises of France from 1980 to 2005. In 1987, he founded the Association Progrès du Management, which promotes progress in business by supporting the development of business leaders.
He was a Commander of the Legion of Honor, the National Order of Merit and the Order of Rio Branco, and a Knight of the Order of Agricultural Merit.
Bellon retired as Sodexo’s chief in 2005. He continued in his role as chairman of the board of directors until January 2016, when he was succeeded by his daughter.
He is survived by his wife Nani; four children, Sophie, Nathalie, François-Xavier and Astrid; and 13 grandchildren.
Pierre Bellon was a leader ahead of his time. He was a captain of industry with a long-term strategic vision, and at the same time very close to his teams on the ground. He was obsessed with job creation.
Sodexo shares the grief of his wife Nani, of their children Sophie, Nathalie, François-Xavier and Astrid, and of their grandchildren.