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November 3rd, 2012

by Total Food Service

Q&A Mark Freeman


Mark Freeman, President of SFM & Senior Manager of Global Employee Services at Microsoft Corporation


How did you get into the industry?
Like many of my colleagues, I started my career in front of a sink in the dish room. During high school, I was a “pearl diver” at a restaurant in my hometown of Olympia, Washington. The food bug bit me early. I stayed in the industry, in various positions, while in college and when I graduated I began feeding college kids with a company called SAGA.
I spent 18 years in higher education foodservice and then moved to the B&I segment. This is where I became familiar with SFM and began to understand the value of the association to my career. I fed Corporate America for about another 12 years and then decided to “become” corporate America. I was the Client Liaison for Hewlett Packard as their Global Foodservice Manager.
After leaving HP, I spent a couple of years as a foodservice consultant before coming to my current position at Microsoft. I have this industry in my blood and hope to be able to pass my passion on to others who may be looking at this as a career. It has truly been a great ride in this exciting industry.

What is your agenda for your term as incoming president of SFM?

As I come into the presidency, I’m happy to report that SFM is in great shape due to the hard work and accomplishments of our past leadership. My agenda is to keep the momentum going as we grow our membership. My platform will be built on three pillars Build, Grow, and Win.

Build on what the past leadership have accomplished.
Grow the membership through superior programing, focused educational sessions, and great networking opportunities.
If we execute on the first two pillars we will Win in the industry. We will win members, both current and future, we will win through connections with other associations and we will win the continued respect of the B&I industry.

What does SFM bring to its members?
SFM is “the community to enhance hospitality in the workplace.” More than any other industry association, SFM brings expertise, knowledge, community and passion to B&I.
We provide our membership with the opportunity to grow personally and professionally through superior educational and networking events. We’re just coming off of a fantastic national conference with a great lineup of speakers who left attendees enthused about their careers.
We have SFM Local and Solutions - three events are scheduled this year for Seattle, Washington DC, Charlotte, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Texas. These are exciting times at SFM.

What came out of the recent conference in Las Vegas?
SFM events are truly about building the community through relationship building and information sharing. We strengthened relationships and renewed our enthusiasm for the industry and our professions. We received some really insightful information about design, technology, service, and healthy programs. Kevin Zraly of Windows on the World shared his knowledge about wine with us – I’m sure many of us found an immediate use for that information.

What are the major changes you have seen in the industry?
I see the role of the client liaison expanding. In the past, individuals in that position were totally focused on the foodservice program; now they are taking on mail rooms, reception, conference centers and conference rooms, audio visual, and even art programs. This is a testament to the versatility of this group. At the core of foodservice is hospitality and these professionals can bring that understanding to other disciplines.

What is Microsoft’s approach to feeding its employee base?
As a tech company, Microsoft is all about innovation and efficiency. Microsoft supports its employees by providing programs that bring fantastic food and variety in an environment that promotes productivity. We have been focused on the customer experience and bringing choices to them that are innovative, inspirational and cost effective – in great café settings.

SFM finds itself uniquely positioned with both “self operator” and contracted operations. What role does each play?
The role of the self-operator in our industry is shrinking and the skills it takes to manage a self-operation are quite different than those needed to manage a contracted program. SFM is uniquely positioned to accommodate both within our organization through our client liaison community. At our major events throughout the year, including our Critical Issues Conference and National Conference, we bring the Client Liaisons together to discuss common issues. We’re proud to be able to foster an environment for the free exchange of ideas; nothing beats learning from your peers’ successes and missteps. Over the course of the next year, we are going to expand our Client Liaison Forums to include web-based communities wherein this group can keep the conversation flowing between events and not lose the momentum.

There was truly an all-star line-up of award winners at this year’s Las Vegas convention, what are your thoughts on their accomplishments?
Our award winners and members are such a dedicated bunch of professionals, I would be surprised if the selection process wasn’t so challenging. We are very fortunate to have such a quality group of members to choose from as well. The winners are truly experts and have passion for the B&I industry. They give of themselves without hesitation to help grow what has become a truly superior organization. It’s truly an honor to know and work with our award winners.

SFM has tackled healthy eating…what role or responsibility does membership have to dining guests?
Education. Every day, we have the privilege of sharing our knowledge about food with our customers; it’s a great place to be. We also have a responsibility to educate our customers about the benefits of healthy eating, what’s really good for you, what’s a myth, what’s good in moderation, etc. We provide our guests with options and in some cases, incentivize them to purchase healthier meals by charging less for items that greatly contribute to overall health. We are in a unique spot in B&I in that our customers are frequently our co-workers, so we are that much more invested in their wellbeing.

Are you concerned with the industry’s ability to attract bright young talent to corporate dining?
I’m very pleased with the pipeline of professionals coming into our industry. I have seen the passion for foodservice in the young people I have had a chance to visit with both at the college level and within our service provider organizations.

B&I offers something that I think appeals to many young people: a work-life balance, free evenings and weekends.

I am on the board of the South Seattle Community College Hospitality Program and I have seen the excitement in the students’ eyes and have been very impressed with how eager they are to join our ranks. Within the supplier organizations, there are so many young managers who are ready to take the reins and grow this industry and grow with this industry. I encourage any young people who are interested in B&I to check out the SFM website and contact our members. We are passionate about what we do and are great resources!

How can SFM work together to accomplish this?
SFM must continue to provide an environment where foodservice professionals can network with and be mentored by seasoned professionals and gain valuable education opportunities. We also offer many opportunities for scholarships through the SFM Foundation which conducts many fundraising events throughout the year, like the Schmooze Cruise and the Golf Tournament. We are fully committed to supporting the youth of our industry.

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