A 30-plus year veteran of the foodservice industry, Mark Freeman is senior manager of employee services for Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., where he oversees dining service which conducts 50,000-plus transactions per day. Since assuming this role in 2005, Freeman has instituted a campus-wide recycling and composting program as well as a major software upgrade, swapped the disposables used for on-site dining and catering with a more eco-friendly, biodegradable product, and opened up online forums where Microsoft employees could offer feedback, a move that has dramatically improved customer satisfaction. He’s also helped upgrade the quality of all beverages and meals served, including at kiosks and retail outlets. Prior to Microsoft, Freeman has worked for Saga, a contract feeder, and most recently as a consultant for Porter Consulting.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
Mark Freeman: I have a passion for it. I like it. It’s fun. It’s entertaining, and more specifically, it’s the people. There are some really cool people in this industry and they do some really cool things. That’s what keeps me excited about the industry and in a sense wanting to give back after 30 or 35 years of working in it.
FE&S: What was your first foodservice job?
Mark Freeman: My first job happened to be in the foodservice industry. I started in the dishroom as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Olympia, about 60 miles south of Seattle, when I was in high school. I’ve been in foodservice ever since, and let me tell you, it’s been a while.
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
Mark Freeman: There were two people. The first one I won’t give a name, but he was probably one of the worst managers I had. I learned the most from him — I learned what not to do. From that experience I learned how to handle your people well and treat them the right way, without favoritism or disrespect.
From a more positive standpoint, I had another manager when I worked for this company called Saga back in the day — her name is Micki O’Brien, and she taught me a ton about the industry and how to do things in the way of contract foodservice and also catering. Micki was a master at catering. So you see, it isn’t always the superstars you learn the most from.
FE&S: Who in the foodservice industry do you admire most?
Mark Freeman: Being in the position I’m in I admire the unit managers the most. They have their feet on the ground and are right next to the customers and have to make the quick decision and manage budgets and schedules and all of it. What they do for the industry is phenomenal. I’m also inspired by aspiring managers, too. I’m on the board of directors for small local community college here with a hospitality program and there’s a lot of passion out there among people who want to get into the industry. I admire them for wanting to become a part of this world.
FE&S: What do you look for in a business partner?
Mark Freeman: Basic things I look for in somebody or a company that I can trust. I work in an upfront, honest manner and I look for similar people who like to get everything out on the table so there are no surprises.
FE&S: If I were just starting out in the foodservice industry what advice would you give me?
Mark Freeman: Be patient. Sometimes people try to rush their careers and get to the top really fast but I think there’s a lot to be learned along the way. Win when you can, and have a passion for what you do.