- Spotlight - Business

Olivier Poirot: Cultivating a Culture of Meritocracy and Continuous Improvement at Elior North America

Source: "Olivier Poirot: Cultivating a Culture of Meritocracy and Continuous Improvement at Elior North America"
Valiant CEO, May 4, 2023

In this exclusive interview with ValiantCEO MagazineOlivier Poirot, President and CEO of Elior North America, shares his passion for building a meritocratic culture and nurturing talent in the food service and hospitality industries.

With a focus on team members’ well-being and continuous improvement, Elior North America serves clients across various sectors, including education, healthcare, dining & events, community meals, and correctional services.

Join us as we discuss the importance of fostering an inclusive environment, the challenges of talent acquisition and development, and Olivier’s vision for success in 2023.

We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.

Olivier Poirot: I have been president and CEO of Elior North America since 2019 and have enjoyed a long career in the hospitality and foodservice industries. I am passionate about cultivating a culture that drives toward continuous improvement and building teams based on meritocracy. 

My wife and I have been married 30 years this year, and we have two children who have grown to become fantastic young adults and great friends to be around. America is the land of amazing landscapes, people and geographies. We love outdoor activities, hiking, camping, sailing and biking. I also enjoy reading, history being one of my favorite subjects.

Elior North America is a foodservice contract company, consisting of 12 distinct companies serving five different market sectors: education (K-12, universities, independent schools), healthcare (acute care and life plan communities), dining & events (professional dining, events catering, attractions), community meals (congregate and home-delivered meals for seniors), and correctional services (county jails and officer dining). 

We are a $1.4B company with 16,000 team members and 2,100 client locations in 48 states across our five market sectors.

If you were in an elevator with Warren Buffet, how would you describe your company, your services or products? What makes your company different from others? What is your company’s biggest strength?

Olivier Poirot: You can find Elior North America’s companies across the country in K-12 schools, universities, museums, county jails, hospitals, senior centers, corporate headquarters and more.

The work our teams do is in the background; making our clients shine by serving nutritious and delicious meals that enhance their everyday experiences.

Our people are not only our biggest strength, but our differentiators from competitors as well. The leaders of each of our businesses are eagerly accessible to every client and team member, which builds a culture where trusted relationships across all levels are paramount.

Quiet quitting, The Great Resignation, are an ongoing trend causing many businesses to struggle keeping talent engaged and motivated. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. In your experience, what keeps employees happy? And how are adapting to the current shift we see?

Olivier Poirot: We take pride in fostering an environment in which team members feel welcomed and respected.

For Elior North America’s leadership, it’s important to ask for feedback from our team members and act on that feedback to keep continuously improving the work experience and ensure our people feel heard, respected and valued. 

This approach has resulted in continuously improving employee satisfaction survey results year-over-year.

We also strive to be an inclusive meritocracy, offer our team members unique career paths, and have seen team members grow from entry-level positions into leadership roles and acquire skills as they grow with the organization.

Here is a two fold question: What is the book that influenced you the most and how? Please share some life lessons you learned. Now what book have you gifted the most and why?

Olivier Poirot: It’s difficult to name one book from an influence standpoint, as a lot of the insight I have gained from books was also a reflection of how we conduct ourselves.

One of the most impactful training and series of books was centered on the DISC profile – know yourself so that you can know others. I tend to use it every day. 

The book I have gifted the most is one of the top two books on how to get into a new job – “Knock It Out Of The Park,” which shares great tools and reminders to demonstrate value from the get-go. Another one is “The Oz Principle,” which does a sterling job of sharing how to keep it real in organizations.

Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as THE real challenge right now?

Olivier Poirot: The most significant challenge right now – and always the key to success – is having the right talent in the right roles in an organization. 

The war for talent continues to rage on, and we must keep focusing not only on recruiting new talent, but also on nurturing, developing, and supporting the talent we have so they can grow their talents along with the organization.

We innovate a lot, are mindful of our impact on the environment, and strive to bring amazing recipes that also help everyone have a lower impact on our resources. I think this is a constant challenge, especially when it comes to promoting plant-based proteins.

2020, 2021, 2022 threw a lot of curve balls into businesses on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past years, how can businesses thrive in 2023? What lessons have you learned and what advice would you share?

Olivier Poirot: Take good care of your team members, and they will take care of your clients. Doing the right thing is a good rule in any regard, but when it comes to how you treat your teams, this is non-negotiable. 

This was especially evident in 2020 during the most challenging and terrifying early stages of the pandemic when our teams faced unforeseen demands of feeding children, seniors and other vulnerable populations in ways that had never been done before – such as delivering meals to food-insecure children’s homes via school buses. 

We took pride in putting our team members and their safety first, communicated early and frequently with our clients, never stopped advising them and came up with solutions to help them re-open their businesses and venues. There’s no doubt they over-delivered in serving our clients’ needs.

What does “success” in the year to come mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.

Olivier Poirot: We are on track to continue to grow aggressively and organically – the best way to grow, most profitable, and the one most certain to help us promote meritocracy. We are also looking at launching one, possibly two new home-grown ventures. 

We are also blessed to have recently integrated our parent company with Derichebourg Multi-Services. Daniel Derichebourg has now become our global CEO, bringing synergies, dynamism and a renewed capacity for investment. So, we might very well be active in the coming weeks with M&A work again. 

That’s plenty to keep us busy. If I have to narrow it down, I’ll choose my personal measure of success by the pride of belonging to our teams, and how many diverse leaders will continue to rise through the ranks as we expand our footprint.

Olivier Poirot