Chief executive officer and director, Publix Super Markets
Education: Emory University, BBA, 1964; MBA, 1965; Harvard, PhD, 1969.
Family: Son of Charles Jenkins Sr. (retailer); married Dorothy Chao; children: two.
Career: Publix Super Markets, 1969–1974, assistant to the vice president of real estate; 1974–1988, vice president of real estate; 1988–1990, executive vice president; 1990–2000, chairman of the executive committee; 2000–2001, chief operating officer; 2001–, chief executive officer.
Address: Publix Super Markets, 3300 Airport Road, Lakeland, Florida 33811; http://www.publix.com.
■ Charles H. Jenkins Jr. began his career in the retail food business in 1969 at Publix Super Markets in Lakeland, Florida. After working his way up the management ladder of the family-run business, he became chief operating officer (COO) in 2000, a position that was eliminated upon his appointment as chief executive officer (CEO) in 2001. During his tenure at Publix he developed a reputation for meticulous planning and a careful, methodical approach to growth.
Charles H. Jenkins Jr.'s uncle George Jenkins opened the first Publix Super Market in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1930. From the beginning, stock was sold only to employees, family members, and members of the board of directors, making Publix the largest employee-owned grocery-store chain in the United States and Florida's largest private employer. Charles Jr.'s father, Charles Sr., began working for his older brother George in 1945, shortly after the company purchased the All American grocery store chain.
Jenkins received a PhD in real estate from Harvard in 1969 and immediately went to work for Publix, beginning as assistant to the vice president of real estate. In 1974 he became vice president of real estate and was appointed to the company's board of directors. As the first generation of senior executives began to reach retirement age, Jenkins and his peers were put into key positions within the company. Industry insiders noted that this gradual process of turning over power was a key reason that Publix remained a consistent presence in the retail food business amid change and supermarket takeovers.
In the book Fifty Years of Pleasure , Pat Watters writes that Jenkins applied for a job at Publix upon completion of his doctorate. He wrote his thesis on shopping-center development. At first his uncle refused to employ him, telling Jenkins that the grocery-store business was too difficult for the younger man to master. Jenkins persisted, telling his uncle that he had tied up 90 percent of his personal investments in Publix stock and that he wanted to have the chance to turn his investments into large profits. His uncle understood that reasoning and put him to work in the real-estate division. Jenkins admitted in an interview for the book that he believed Publix was simply the best chance he had for achieving his potential. Jenkins achieved a reputation equal to his uncle's in knowing how to locate stores in profitable areas.
Under Jenkins's leadership, Publix expanded into the convenience-store and gas-station market under the name of Pix. Almost immediately these stores earned the reputation of being top of the line in that market, offering deli items and Publix private-label goods. Enterprise Florida recognized Publix in 2003 for its efforts to diversify and add to the state's economy. The Major Market Business Expansion Award recognized the efforts of Jenkins in 2002 to create jobs with higher wages and Publix's community involvement. The award cited Publix for spending $500 million on an expansion of the company's headquarters in Lakeland and opening 51 new stores. Jenkins accepted the award from Governor Jeb Bush. The award also recognized the company's humanitarian efforts for instituting the Food Industry Against Hunger campaign in 2002 and for its support of local, state, and national charities such as the March of Dimes. The family-run business stressed customer satisfaction as well as employee contentment. In 2003 readers of Florida Monthly magazine voted Publix the best grocery store in the state. Fortune 500 named it one of its most admired companies in 2003. As of 2004 employees owned about 27 percent of the company.
When Jenkins replaced his cousin, Howard Jenkins, as CEO, he vowed to honor the company's motto, "Where shopping is always a pleasure." Noted for his careful planning, Jenkins established a reputation in his early years for taking meticulous, well-planned steps toward building the company. He continued that approach as CEO.
Until 1990 Jenkins and the company remained dedicated to the concept of not expanding outside of Florida. When the economic climate warranted a change, however, Jenkins led the company's expansion into Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. His research and homework in preparing the expansion impressed those watching the Fortune 500 company. Publix entered the Atlanta market in 1990. A research consultant noted that the growth of Publix in that area awed industry insiders. Within a decade the company had gone from having no stores to competing with Kroger for dominance in the area.
When Publix moved into Tennessee and bought stores from Albertsons in 2002, industry insiders were impressed with the thoroughness with which the company entered the market in the Nashville area. Analysts noted that Publix contacted the proper regulatory agencies and personally supervised every detail. During negotiations and development of the expansion, the owners of the company personally attended the meetings and made the phone calls.
Jenkins continued following the original mission of Publix to promote high-quality food in order to become the best retailer in the world. He focused on giving customers value while not tolerating waste. Jenkins dedicated the business to remaining loyal to its stockholders and taking civic duties seriously. In his first year as CEO, profits grew 19 percent, with a 4.3 percent increase in revenue.
Local residents are quick to praise and defend Lakeland's largest employer. One observer of Publix's success noted, with a hint of bias, that finding a disgruntled employee was impossible. Andrew Wolf, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets in Richmond, Virginia, told Progressive Grocer in 2003 that one of the reasons for employee loyalty were the incentives employees had as owners of the company. In 2003, for the seventh consecutive year, Publix received recognition as one of Fortune magazine's Top One Hundred Companies To Work For. This designation was determined by a survey of randomly selected employees that asked about management, peer relationships, and pride in working for Publix. Jenkins told Fortune , "It is thrilling to know that our associates still consider Publix to be one of the best companies to work for in America." Publix also received the highest scores of any other supermarket for customer satisfaction in a national survey conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2003.
Jenkins followed established business standards while remaining willing to make changes that made good business sense. For example, he began a new policy in the 1970s while still working in the real estate division that saved the company time and money. When Jenkins began as vice president of real estate in 1974, Publix owned 25 percent of its locations. According to company records in 1980, it owned only one in six. Jenkins remain committed to the company's focus on carefully determining each store's location. When he could not find a developer to build and lease on a favorable site, Publix would build the store itself. Jenkins remarked in Fifty Years of Pleasure that locating developers to build stores was easy because of Publix's reputation: "They know that having a good merchant in their shopping center is going to make it a more successful one." In 2003 Progressive Grocer compared Publix to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Like the renowned amusement park, Publix created a clean and pleasant experience for the shopper. The magazine noted that building loyalty among its customers left Publix with a heritage and its customers with a tradition.
Publix developed a loyalty among its customers in Florida. The industry regarded Publix as a well-run supermarket chain, a view that continued under Jenkins's leadership. He did not waiver from his family's philosophy in providing a pleasant place to shop and work. As a result, Publix became one of the most respected family-run businesses in the United States. As expansion occurred outside the state of Florida, the same loyal following occurred.
When Jenkins stopped the loyalty discount-card program, analysts initially wondered if the strategy would work. Later they conceded that the move had been successful because Publix had other strengths that its customers admired. Andrew Wolf noted in Progressive Grocer that "A loyalty card is not powerful enough to trump what they offer, which is better merchandising, better service, higher quality, and superior facilities" (February 15, 2003).
When the corporate headquarters in Lakeland were completed in 2003, observers noted that the 320,000-square-foot, crescent-shaped complex reflected the steady growth of Publix under the leadership of Jenkins and sent a message to the city of Lakeland that Publix planned to stay in its home community. Other supermarket companies looked to Publix with envy because it managed to retain its high quality while going through a rapid expansion.
See also entry on Publix Super Markets Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Major, Meg, "Publix, Florida's Other Magic Kingdom: Employee Ownership and a Culture of Excellence," Progressive Grocer, February 15, 2003, p. 22.
"Seizing the Best Opportunities (Publix)," MMR , May 12, 2003, p. 102.
Watters, Pat, Fifty Years of Pleasure: The Illustrated History of Publix Super Markets, Inc. , Lakeland, Florida: Publix Super Markets, 1980.
—Patricia C. Behnke