From the trunk of a Dodge in 1936 to a multi-national corporation today, ARAMARK’s commitment to service excellence continues to meet and exceed customer needs and client goals.
Like every business, ARAMARK started small. In this case, the inventory was peanuts, the warehouse was the back seat of a Dodge, and the man with the big idea was Davre Davidson. The year was 1936.
His vision was to put vending machines in factories and offices – places they had never been before. In Davidson’s mind, his business was not “vending”, it was service. This concept was shared by another like-minded entrepreneur, William Fishman, who ran Automatic Merchandising Company, a vending machine company based in Chicago.
A mutual customer, Douglas Aircraft, brought the two men together during World War II. Davidson managed vending for Douglas Aircraft’s Southern California plant, while Fishman handled vending at its Chicago plant. They shared ideas and became fast friends.
Gaining a National Presence
In September 1959, Davidson and Fishman merged their operations into one, and the combined company became known as Automatic Retailers of America, or ARA for short. In 1960 they took ARA public to infuse the enterprise with new capital and expand the business. At that time, ARA’s annual revenue exceeded $37 million.
Davidson’s operations had been primarily on the West Coast, Fishman’s in the Mid-West. The two men knew that to be truly national the company would need an East Coast presence as well. In 1961, ARA gained that East Coast presence with the acquisition of the Philadelphia-based Slater System, Inc., the country’s largest manual food service business at the time.
By combining vending and manual food service, ARA became a diversified service provider. The company continued to diversify and expand over the following decades. Davidson and Fishman’s approach to entering new businesses was to research the best-managed local companies, acquire them, and convince key members of the acquired companies’ management teams to stay with ARA.
In the mid-1960s, with the boom of air travel and record attendance at sporting events, ARA entered the leisure services market. In 1968, ARA took its operations international when it was selected to serve over one million meals to thousands of athletes at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. It was the first of many Olympic partnerships for the company. One year later, to reflect its growing range of services, the company officially changed its name to ARA Services.
In 1976, the company entered the work uniform rental and career apparel industry, as businesses sought uniforms and other textile products to distinguish their brands from competitors and to increase employee morale. In 1980, ARA Services acquired National Child Care Centers, Inc. and entered the childcare arena.
Meanwhile, Joseph Neubauer joined ARA Services in 1979 as executive vice president of finance and development, chief financial officer, and a member of the company’s board of directors.
Two years later, he was elected president of the company. In 1983, Neubauer was elected Chief Executive Officer, and finally Chairman in 1984.
From Public to Private
In 1984, to fend off a hostile takeover bid, a group of executives, including Neubauer, coordinated a management buyout that resulted in management ownership of 40 percent of the company, allowing managers to maintain control of their own destinies.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, emphasis was shifting from “serving” to “partnering.” Reflecting this change, ARA Services changed its name to ARAMARK in 1994. With the company’s new name came a new way of describing its service philosophy. For years, ARAMARK’s managers had created value for clients by taking on “non-core” functions such as food service or uniforms and enabling clients to focus on what they do best. ARAMARK’s managers recognized that, with many clients, the company had moved far beyond the traditional “supplier” role into full business partnerships that continued to expand over time. ARAMARK began calling these special relationships “Unlimited Partnerships,” recognizing that ARAMARK would do whatever it could to satisfy clients and help them succeed at their core businesses.
From 1995 to 1999, ARAMARK further developed its facilities and uniform and career apparel capabilities through key acquisitions. By 1999, ARAMARK had boosted its revenues to approximately $6.7 billion.
The new millennium brought new opportunities. In November 2001, ARAMARK acquired ServiceMaster Management Services, its most significant acquisition ever. This strategic move expanded the company’s facility service capabilities, which now rivaled ARAMARK’s longstanding competencies in food service and uniform and career apparel.
Continuous Growth: From Private to Public – And Back Again
In December 2001, ARAMARK returned to the New York Stock Exchange after 17 years as a private company. ARAMARK’s initial public offering created resources with which the company could continue to strengthen the quality and breadth of customer resources.
Since this public offering, the company continued to expand its professional service offerings through strategic acquisitions in the healthcare, conference center, uniform service and food service arenas. At the same time, ARAMARK continued to expand its overseas capabilities by entering such countries as Chile and Ireland and by increasing its investment in Japan and Korea. In 2003, ARAMARK completed the sale of its childcare division to better focus on growth opportunities in its core food, facilities and uniform businesses.
To offer value to existing shareholders and continue to provide superior experiences, environments and outcomes to ARAMARK clients, in 2006 a group of investors led by Neubauer proposed the acquisition of all outstanding shares of the company, a move shareholders overwhelmingly voted to approve. The new private structure allows the company to focus more fully on delivering long-term solutions that deliver the most value for clients.
Today, partnership remains the cornerstone of ARAMARK’s business model. Over the course of its history, ARAMARK has endeavored to build relationships of trust with thousands of clients around the world. The company offers its clients the most complete, most innovative array of managed services in the marketplace, and thus provides solutions that are customized to each client’s unique needs. In the process, ARAMARK strives to create more value for its clients and to strengthen and expand its client partnerships. ARAMARK knows these partnerships are possible only because of its talented employees. In recognition of this, the company constantly seeks new ways to invest in its employees.