The President of Publix Gives us His Recipe for Success.
Photos provided by Publix
Founded by George Jenkins in 1930 and headquartered in Lakeland since 1951, Publix has grown into the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States, with 168,500 employees, 1,077 stores, 8 distribution centers, 10 manufacturing facilities, and $29 billion in sales.
The Lakelander: We would be hard-pressed to find someone whose story better represents our theme of motivation and loyalty. Your career at Publix has spanned more than 30 years. Tell us about your professional journey.
Todd Jones: I began my career in 1980 as a front-service clerk in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I worked in a variety of store positions before becoming a store manager in 1988. In 1997, I was promoted to district manager, regional director in 1999, and vice president of the Jacksonville division in 2003. In 2005, I was promoted to senior vice president — product business development. And in March 2008, I was promoted to my current position of president.
TL: What about Publix made you stay?
TJ: I have always seen Publix as a place of opportunity for those who work hard. I understood Publix’s philosophy of promotion from within, and I knew I could make a career here. Retail was in my blood, and I was passionate about serving people as I had witnessed it early in my career. I hadthe privilege of meeting Mr. George. I can recall the day when he provided me with his phone number followed by these words: “If there ever comes a time when you can’t take care of our customers or don’t have time for our associates, call me. I will.”
TL: It seems that many associates feel the same way. Tell us about the remarkably long tenure of the company’s employee-owners.
TJ: In 2014, we had more than 19,400 associates celebrating their service awards (in five-year increments) at Publix, and of those, 2,748 were celebrating more than 20 years of service with us. What’s even more amazing is that the average tenure for a Publix store manager is 25.8 years. Our culture of promotion from within coupled with associate ownership creates skin in the game for our associates. It’s a sense of accountability and responsibility for our success. There’s not one single area of the business that is more important than the next. We work cross-functionally to provide service to our customers, internal and external.
Our CEO, Ed Crenshaw, has a theory. If you come to work and make it past your 90 days, more than likely you’ll be here for your first anniversary. If you’re here on your first anniversary, you’ll likely be here to celebrate your third anniversary. And if you’re here for your third anniversary, we’ve got you! Our associates are the key to our success. They
are the secret sauce. It can’t be replicated; it’s unique to our company.
TL: A few years ago you were quoted as saying, “Never forget where you came from.”1 How does this philosophy help you lead the company and serve customers?
TJ: In order to lead an agile and effective team, you need to have an understanding of the people, the processes, and have a shared vision of the company strategy. As president, I advocate for my retail store teams. I remember each lesson I learned every step of the way, from my days as a part-time front service clerk to becoming store manager. I recognize what we’re asking our retail teams to execute on each and every day as we go to business, and I place myself in their shoes.
This allows me to better understand the tools, training, and talent that it will take to provide the best shopping experience for our customers. Being able to relate to our associates is vitally important to our success.
TL: What makes Mr. George’s “people-first culture,”2 which has served the company well in response to increased competition and economic weakness, so effective?
TJ: If we take care of our associates, our associates will take care of our customers. It’s that simple. Our people are the single most important differentiator. We have a culture of service to our customers, to each other, and to the communities we serve. For almost 85 years, we’ve remained committed to making Publix a great place to work and shop.
TL: Publix has not only innovated in the traditional grocery business but has also created complementary operations such as Greenwise and Aprons. What are some current and upcoming projects?
TJ: I always use the example of “The Essence of Survival.” “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed…every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
So each new day we face new challenges and opportunities. But we always keep in mind that we are here to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers. So whether we’re looking to solve the “What’s for dinner question?” by providing meal solutions, or teaching our customers how to cook with our Publix Aprons Cooking Schools, or looking to save our customers time with Publix Deli Online Easy Ordering, or if we’re looking to bring new and innovative products to our shelves, we’re doing it so that our customers look to Publix.
Over the years, we’ve introduced a multitude of innovation and convenience, including Publix Pharmacy, Publix Liquors, Publix Sabor, and we look ahead to evolving technologies and how we continue to best serve our customers. Also worth noting is our extended selection of natural and organic products, and convenience items such as chef selections, hot and cold food bars, soups, hot sandwiches, expanded-service cheese. We are also expanding our Event Planning services to make every occasion special for our customers.
TL: What are the lessons learned fromprojects that didn’t succeed?
TJ: There are always lessons to learn. We incorporate operational feedback, associate feedback, customer feedback, and determine what were the obstacles to success. We don’t get caught up in the “it didn’t work” mode, but rather, how can we make it work next time around. Sometimes we’re ahead of the curve and time, and at other points, it just wasn’t a product
or service that resonated well with the customer. As long as we learned, there’s a degree of success.
TL: Besides business and department operations, what does an employee-owner learn working in the Publix culture?
TJ: We learn people first. We learn family. We learn that that Publix becomes our extended family. We learn hard work, dedication, commitment, responsibility, and personal accountability. I believe that because this is our extended family, I have a great responsibility to serve. It’s amazing to me to hear and see how many people worked at Publix as their first
job and still today remember our culture and the small things that made the most impact in their lives.
LOYALTY IS EARNED. IT’S DOING THE THINGS YOU SAY YOU’RE DOING EVEN WHEN FOLKS AREN’T LOOKING. IT’S DOING THE THINGS THAT WILL HAVE THE GREATEST GOOD FOR THE GROUP. IT’S RESPECTING DIFFERENCES. UNDERSTANDING THAT WE EACH BRING SOMETHING TO THE TABLE THAT HAS BEEN SHAPED BY THE INDIVIDUAL’S EXPERIENCES.
TL: In addition to being a great place to work and shop, Publix has contributed even more to the Lakeland community — parks, food programs for those in need, even the Publix Commons dorms at Florida Southern that I called home for several years. What’s the motivation for such generosity?
TJ: We learned from our founder, the late George Jenkins. He was once asked what he thought he would be worth had he not given so much of his money away. And he humbly replied, “Probably nothing.” It is our culture. Our associates are passionate about service whether in our stores or in our communities. We volunteer our time, our talents, and our dollars. I am proud of our associates and the countless organizations we serve as a Publix family.
TL: In what ways can Lakeland’s community inspire motivation and engender loyalty in the way that Publix culture does for customers and employee-owners?
TJ: Loyalty is earned. It’s doing the things you say you’re doing even when folks aren’t looking. It’s doing the things that will have the greatest good for the group. It’s respecting
differences. Understanding that we each bring something to the table that has been shaped by the individual’s experiences. It’s valuing those differences. It’s recognizing that healthy conflict is a good thing. It’s important to remember the past. Enjoy the moment. And look to the bright future ahead.