The story of Pierre Bellon is a truly exceptional one, Pierre was a very rare kind of person who was a passionate entrepreneur who was also eager to contribute to building “a fairer and more humane society”.

A pioneer: with a truly entrepreneurial spirit

Born in 1930 and a graduate of HEC business school, Pierre Bellon began his career in his father’s maritime supply company in his hometown, Marseille. However, anticipating the impact of air transport on shipping supply companies, he decided to change the family business. He launched a new company catering business in 1962, creating ‘Repas Service’, a small business delivering meals to companies in the Marseille area.

“Thanks to a rate of success that slightly outpaced our setbacks, Sodexo grew by leaps and bounds” Pierre Bellon, from his book 'I had a lot of fun'

He encountered many obstacles throughout his journey to create and grow Sodexo from a small start-up to the world’s #1 France-based private employer with 412,000 employees across 56 countries. But he overcame each one with the same resolve and entrepreneurial spirit which ultimately made him so successful.

For example, the first contract won for Sodexo, a self-service restaurant for 2,000 customers for the CEA (Atomic Energy Commission) in 1964, was won despite the call for tenders being closed, the competition being tough and how new Sodexo was as a business. Pierre Bellon was still able to convince the decision makers and win the contract.

A visionary: who listened and followed his intuition

Pierre Bellon created Sodexo based on the vision: “to create a moment of conviviality and quality of life over lunch”, and as Sodexo grew, empathy and listening were his methods for better understanding the expectations of clients and the needs of consumers.

For example, before entering the Education market, he spent entire afternoons in a suburban Parisian school to understand school catering for toddlers, particularly the challenges of nutrition and the importance of the environment. 

“Constant progress is our only means of differentiating ourselves from the competition... this alone will enable us to show our clients and customers that our services evolve to match their changing needs and that we are constantly improving our offering” Pierre Bellon, from his book 'I had a lot of fun'

Later, once convinced of the potential of China as a future market, his determination did not waiver, despite several obstacles such as the closure of the factory of a potential client. Once again, his ingenuity and creativity gave him the keys to this vast market: when he learned of the opening of an American school, he knew that it would be a fabulous entry point for Sodexo. Satisfying the students would be a powerful argument in convincing their parents to hire Sodexo to provide food services at their own companies. This strategy paid off: two years later, Sodexo was present throughout the eastern part of the country, well ahead of its competitors.

An ambitious builder: whose audacious plans paid off

Just 8 years after its international debut, Sodexo was operating in 35 countries, generating 55% of its revenues and employing 8,000 people outside France, more than half of the company’s total workforce of 15,000 employees.

"I made organic growth a priority from the start" Pierre Bellon, from his book 'I had a lot of fun'

On March 2, 1983, Sodexo was listed on the Paris stock exchange. The company became the world’s leading listed European foodservice company but Pierre Bellon then expanded his scope of action beyond the foodservice market, which was now too small to live up to his ambitions. He ventured in to commercial catering, services and leisure with the acquisition of Bateaux Parisiens in 1987.

"As soon as Sodexo expanded nationally, I started to think about international prospects” Pierre Bellon, from his book 'I had a lot of fun'

Between 1990 and 1994, 25 new countries were opened. Sodexo became a partner in the Tour de France as well as the Olympic Games and developed partnerships with top chefs. Then between 1994 and 1997 Sodexo acquired Gardner Merchant in the United Kingdom, partnered with Partena in Sweden as well as Marriott Management Services. Pierre doubled the size of Sodexo in these short years and positioned the Group as the number one in Foodservices with the ambition to become the leader in Foodservices and Facilities Management services.

This period embodies Pierre Bellon’s success: the Group was listed on the CAC 40 in 1998, Pierre was elected Executive of the Year in 1997 and received the “Chaptal de l’Industrie” the following year.

A people person: who kept people at the heart of everything

From the outset, Pierre Bellon saw Sodexo as the community where employees, clients and shareholders come together. 

"I am proudest of having made it possible for many people to have grown with the company. My success lies in having created a company able to promote women and men and contribute to their personal fulfillment. I think that's my greatest achievement." Pierre Bellon, from his book 'To serve and to grow'

His decidedly social and committed personality grew stronger as his career progressed. Pierre was deeply committed to the development of people – within as well as outside of Sodexo – and of companies, and was involved in many organizations throughout his life. From the Centre des Jeunes Patrons (now the CJD, Centre des Jeunes Dirigeants d’entreprise), which he joined in 1958 and which brings together young managers driven by the belief that companies should be at the service of people. To the Medef from 1976 to 2013, of which he was also vice-president from 1980 to 2005 as well as the APM (Association Progress de Management) which he created in 1987.

The values Pierre Bellon instilled in all Sodexo employees continues to shape the way Sodexo do business today, with the clear company purpose to create a better everyday for everyone to build a better life for all.

Download Pierre Bellon's complete biography

To pay a tribute to this visionary and passionate entrepreneur, we wanted to share a short film shot in 2020 to mark his 90th birthday, in which women and men who had known him throughout his life share their memories, their anecdotes, and above all their outlook on what an endearing man he was. Watch the video below.

 

 

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