Michel Landel Interview on in the Wall Street Journal, July 2013 - by Leslie Kwoh

July 07, 2013

How do executives stay organized? What are their management strategies? And what do they do for fun? Executive Suite seeks answers to the behind-the-scenes questions

Michel Landel Interview on in the Wall Street Journal, July 2013 - by Leslie Kwoh

WSJ: Tell me about your early career.

Landel: I studied the [business] in college. My first job was at Chase Manhattan bank, first in Paris, then the U.K. and Africa, where I opened a branch in Ivory Coast. After that, I went to work for a big construction company, managing industrial plants in France for four years.

WSJ: Why did you move into the food services industry?

Landel: I did not do finance out of passion at all. I worked in a bank, and it convinced me that that was not the place I wanted to work. I had good friends who were at Sodexo who convinced me that it was a good company. I wanted to travel, get international experience and be in a job where I could be my own boss; Sodexo offered me an interesting job that involved going abroad.

WSJ: What was the most surprising thing about being a manager?

Landel: What I understood very quickly was that people work and engage themselves if they see consistency in the way they are managed. That means having direction – not changing every five minutes, not having a flavor of the month. It’s very important that people understand that the strategy is consistent, that they’re following someone who is telling them to do things that he or she would do themselves.

WSJ: What is the biggest challenge you face as a CEO today?

Landel: Being truly ‘global.’ Many organizations say they’re global, but I think the word is very much misused. A global organization doesn’t just mean you’re in 80 countries, like we are. It’s how you bring all the talent together, how you deliver the best for the customer, from all the best practices and experiences you have all over the world. That’s one of the biggest challenges. Another challenge is around attracting, keeping and developing talent. Ultimately, it’s all about talent.

WSJ: How is the challenge to recruit talent now different than it was before?

Landel: The world has changed. Now, for example, you have working couples who have two different professions, and it’s important that each keep their profession and career. Managing that is complicated, not just for people and couples, but also for companies. If you want people to want to work for you and remain at your organization, you have to take that into consideration by offering workplace flexibility or relocation opportunities for the employee or spouse. These complexities weren’t there 30 years ago.

WSJ: You say that you make mistakes every day. What’s one recent mistake?

Landel: The biggest mistake I make is in choosing people. The most complex and difficult part of my job – and any manager’s job – is to pick the right individual for the right job. I sometimes continue to make the same mistakes, like not putting the right person in the right place because I’m pressed for time, or some other bad reason. What I’ve learned is patience. Too many times, we are impatient. We want to do things quickly, and that actually has a very, very high cost. Taking the time to do the right thing is very important, especially when you choose people and make decisions about people.

WSJ: Speaking of patience, would you agree that there is growing pressure on CEOs and companies to deliver short-term results?

Landel: That will eventually change, because frankly, you don’t build companies on a quarterly basis. It takes a lot of time to build companies. Look at all the big successful companies, like P&GPG +0.10% AlcoaAA +0.69% Coca-ColaKO -0.33%. It takes a lot of time. It takes mistakes. It takes bad days and good days.

WSJ: What do you do in your free time?

Landel: I love to cook and invent new recipes. I love going to the local market, buying stuff and coming back home to cook. My favorite recipes have a lot Asian flavors and spices, because I love Chinese and Indian food.

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