NEW YORK - When Eric J. Foss, Aramark's chief executive, huddled for about 20 minutes Thursday morning with traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange waiting for the first trade of the Philadelphia company's new shares, that may well have been the longest break he's had in the last week and a half.
Foss and other Aramark executives have been to nine cities in the last eight days, meeting with more than 200 institutional investors to drum up interest in Aramark, which was going public for the third time.
So far, so good. Aramark shares rose as much as 17.1 percent in their first day of trading, and ended the day up 13.5 percent at $22.70 per share.
Right after the first trade at $20.25, up 25 cents from the initial offering price, Foss hopped onto the CNBC set on the exchange floor for his television debut as chief stock salesman for Aramark. There was time for a bit of small talk about Philadelphia with host and Montgomery County native Jim Cramer before the interview went live.
The $20 initial price for Aramark's shares - paid by institutional investors before the first public trade - was at the low end of the projected range of $20 to $23 per share, but Foss said he was not disappointed.
"I don't think any of us obsessed about where it needed to price," Foss said in an interview. "It's not where you price. It's where you finish."
Aramark itself sold 28 million shares, grossing $560 million. The company said it would use $412 million of the net proceeds to repay debt.
An additional 8.25 million shares were sold for $165 million by existing shareholders, including chairman Joseph Neubauer and the equity firms that took Aramark private in 2007. If demand warrants it, this group could sell an additional 5.44 million shares for $109 million.
Neubauer himself was scheduled to sell up to 2.42 million shares, for up to $48 million.
Altogether, Aramark and its private equity owners sold a stake of about 15 percent to the public, said Foss, who took that as a good sign.
"That shows you that the core investors, the sponsors, are very excited about the future," Foss said. "They didn't want to sell very much of their stake."
Foss, a Pepsi veteran and a senior executive when Pepsi Bottling Group went public in 1999, was hired in May 2012 by the Aramark board to take public the company, a provider of food, clothing, and other services.
Aramark's earlier IPOs were in 1960 and in 2001, the latter when the company went public at $23 per share, raising $743 million.
Under Neubauer, Aramark fought off a hostile takeover in 1984 by going private in an $889 million deal. Neubauer also led the second going-private deal, worth $6.3 billion, in 2007.
As a highlight of his tenure so far, Foss pointed to business momentum in the form of increased net sales to new customers, a measure that subtracts revenue lost when customers leave. New customers accounted for $525 million of Aramark's $13.9 billion in revenue in fiscal 2013, up from $390 million in fiscal 2012 and an average of $160 million annually from 2009 to 2011.
Foss, who grew up in Indiana as the son of a school principal and teacher, and graduated from Ball State University with a marketing degree, said he took the Aramark job because he saw significant opportunity for growth.
Indeed, Aramark and its two biggest global competitors, Sodexho, from France, and Compass Group, from England, operate in a global market worth close to $900 billion, according to estimates from Aramark and Compass.
The combined fiscal 2013 revenues of the three giants totaled a relatively paltry $68 billion, leaving them plenty of room to continue taking over cafeteria and other services around the world from entities that do it themselves or have outsourced to small operators.
Aramark is by far the smallest of the three and the least global. That doesn't bother Foss. "The fact that we're North America-centric to me is an advantage," he said.
Compass and Sodexho have far more exposure to the recession-plagued economies of Southern Europe. Aramark's European operations are concentrated in Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, Foss said.
In the last five years, Aramark has doubled its percentage of sales from emerging markets in Asia and South America to 8 percent, Foss said.
Foss took over as Aramark's CEO from Neubauer, who joined Aramark in 1979 and was CEO from 1983 until last year, except for nine months in 2004. Neubauer, a prominent philanthropist in the Philadelphia region, remains Aramark's chairman.
Since joining Aramark, Foss has kept a low profile.
He lives near Rittenhouse Square but still has a house in Connecticut, where he coaches an eighth-grade girls' basketball team on weekends.
The story is that Foss and the youngest of his three daughters coached the team together until she went off to college this year.
The girls, in their last year in the league before starting high school, persuaded him to be their coach for one more year.
"It's a great time," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Aramark's fiscal 2013 revenue.
Countries where Aramark operates.