The Conscientious Corporation

Richard “Dick” Macedonia retired in December 2007 as president and chief executive officer of Sodexho, Inc., and chief operating officer of Sodexho Alliance—the North American and global leaders, respectively, in food and facilities-management services. Even in retirement, he continues to consult for Sodexho on a global basis.

Richard Macedonia

As CEO emeritus of a multibillion-dollar company, Macedonia has come a long way since the day he arrived at Indiana State College in 1962. The eighteen-year-old Pittsburgh native was dropped off with two shopping bags full of clothes. Having no car, his father, a barber, had paid a man to drive him to school.

What sets Macedonia’s career apart is more than a humble beginning and quick climb through the corporate ranks. He spent nearly his entire career at one company, and as its top executive, he not only tended its growth but helped make Sodexho a leader in fighting hunger, promoting diversity, and other acts of corporate responsibility.

Of course, those efforts were about doing the right thing, but they were also a business strategy. “Being a good corporate citizen is profitable,” Macedonia said. “It’s that simple.”

Supporters of causes on the receiving end are unlikely to complain. Since 1999, the Sodexho Foundation has donated more than $9 million to organizations fighting hunger.

A free summer lunch program for schoolaged children, an annual servathon and food drive, a program recognizing standout volunteerism, and the funding of an annual hunger study are also part of Sodexho’s Stop Hunger initiative, its main charitable cause.

“We’re not just targeting the U.S. now,” Macedonia said. “We’ve adopted this initiative on a global basis.”

Aware of the environmental impact of buying $4.5 billion worth of food each year, Sodexho officials have also addressed sustainability. In addition to monitoring the environmental practices of its suppliers, Sodexho uses organic and locally grown products when possible and leads recycling, waste-reduction, and composting programs at organizations it serves.

Listed on My Global Career 500 as the sixteenth largest employer in the world, with more than 342,000 workers, Sodexho considers taking care of its employees one of its top corporate responsibilities. Within this realm, Macedonia started what he considers his legacy at Sodexho—his work with diversity and inclusion.

Sodexho has been widely recognized for its innovative diversity and inclusion programs. This year, DiversityInc ranked Sodexho twelfth on its Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. Sodexho also plays host to companies wanting to achieve similar gains. But diversity wasn’t a career-long goal for Macedonia; it started with what he has called “an epiphany that came late in life.”

During a water-cooler conversation about nine years ago, an African American district manager at Sodexho related that he was tapped out as a mentor—advising ten employees—because he was the obvious choice for minorities. Macedonia, then president of Sodexho’s Health Care Division, left the conversation with two new mentees.

One, an African American man, told Macedonia a story about being a victim of profiling so damaging that the man took a demotion to transfer to another city. It not only appalled Macedonia, it changed his beliefs.

“An urban kid from the wrong side of the tracks out of Pittsburgh, I was sure as the day was long that profiling was a way of life, and to make a big deal out of the practice was playing up on something that everyone experiences,” Macedonia said.

“I heard this story and allowed myself to have a basic belief shattered—and it was sort of a snowball effect.”

Richard Macedonia

Macedonia began mentoring diverse executives at Sodexho, which sparked discussions about developing employee network groups. Soon after, he was invited to a meeting of about thirty African American executives. They decided to charter an employee network group and asked him to be the sponsor. “The rest is history,” he said.

When Macedonia was named chief operating officer of Sodexho, Inc., in 2003, one of his keynotes was driving a comprehensive diversity and inclusion program. He expected two business benefits: Employees would identify with the plan, and Sodexho would gain an edge in the battle for talent.

“If you’re not an inclusive organization, the talent you spent all that money to buy is going to leave you,” he said. “Every company speaks to its diversity and inclusion, but once someone gets in and kicks the tires of an organization, they can tell very quickly whether you walk the walk.”

At Sodexho, “walking the walk” means providing extensive diversity training for employees and tasking company officials with developing and evaluating diversity and inclusion practices. Sodexho’s employee network groups have since grown to five. According to Macedonia, “They are literally the catalyst for change in the organization.”

Macedonia believes corporate responsibility leads to financial success, because organizations want to do business with companies that share their values.

“I think the proof is in the pudding,” he said, as Sodexho’s organic growth rate more than doubled from 2003 to 2007, and profits have moved with that growth.

“There’s an altruistic viewpoint that we owe society good citizenship,” he said. “That’s as true as it’s ever been. But the real fact of life is, if you’re a good corporate citizen, society will reward you for it.”

While business was at the heart of most of his maneuvers at Sodexho, it wasn’t part of his decision to stay with the company for thirty-nine years, he said.

After working two years in materials management at Koppers, Inc., a steel mill construction company in Pittsburgh, Macedonia joined a small food-management company called Saga in 1968 as a manager in the campus services division. He quickly moved through the ranks as Saga ventured into health-care services and was purchased by Marriott in 1986. He was twice tapped to launch new Marriott products—senior living services in the U.S. and health-care services in the U.K.

When Marriott officials decided to spin off the Health Care Division as a free-standing business, they recruited Macedonia on the Health Care Services design team. Over the next five years, he went from heading the Health Care Division to heading the North American company, Sodexho, Inc., based in Gaithersburg, Md., which has been fully owned by Sodexho Alliance since 2001.

“I wish I could say I had a grand design that this all would lead to my position as CEO, but it wasn’t so much an end in mind as it was something fresh and challenging,” he said.

“I always had an adage that I lived by: ‘You give me the challenge, and I’ll deliver.’ As long as I kept delivering, they kept piling on the challenges.”

It’s a journey he said he couldn’t have made without some help at IUP.

During his first semester, he lived in Whitmyre Hall, rooming with an all-state high school wrestling champion. The two grappled often, only to be reprimanded by Dean Elwood Sheeder, who lived directly below.

At the semester’s end, the dean told Macedonia he would be splitting up the roommates, and neither one would be living above him for Spring. But when Macedonia told him it wasn’t necessary, that his grades forwould probably prevent his return, the dean wrote Macedonia a permit to register that enabled him to come back.

“If that incident had not taken place, I never would have graduated,” he said.

In his junior year, he again began thinking college wasn’t for him. But a friend advised him not to leave yet: there was a young woman he wanted him to meet. Macedonia ended up making a Homecoming date with the coed, Jane Whalen, who would graduate in 1966 and become his wife of forty-two years. Today, they have four daughters and eight grandchildren.

After sticking it out a few more semesters, Macedonia became part of the first graduating class of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (which gained university status in 1965).

Since earning his bachelor’s degree in Education in 1966, Macedonia added an honorary doctorate from IUP in December 2006 and the Distinguished Alumni Award a year and a half later.

As last year’s IUP Freshman Convocation keynote speaker, Macedonia recounted his arrival in Indiana as a city kid with a chip on his shoulder. “When I got out of that car on campus, I had no idea what was being unleashed,” he said.

“I see this school as the genesis of everything that I really am, professionally and personally.”

Elaine Jacobs Smith ’93 is IUP’s senior web editor.