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Leadership
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 9 months ago

Publix CEO shares insights on competition, customer service and the company's founder

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Todd Jones was recently honored at a leadership breakfast in Sarasota.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

He started as a store clerk. Now, Todd Jones is in charge of an empire that includes about 1,200 stores, more than 190,000 employees and annual revenue of $34.6 billion.

That entity is Publix, where Todd Jones was named president and CEO in 2016 after Ed Crenshaw retired.

Jones’ career at the company has been marked by a steady ascent to the top. He started at Publix in 1980 as a front-service clerk in New Smyrna Beach. Since then, he’s been a store manager, district manager, regional director, vice president of the Jacksonville division and senior vice president of product business development. He was named president in 2008.

During that time, Publix has grown into a grocery powerhouse in the southeastern United States. The company, at a late September news conference, announced plans for even more growth, with a $28 million expansion of its corporate headquarters in Lakeland that will add 700 jobs.

Jones was honored at a Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County Leadership Breakfast event in mid-September. In an interview after the event, Jones talked about the future of the grocery business and how Publix can stand out in a crowded market. Edited excerpts:

  • Customers first: Five years from now, Jones says, the grocery business will look somewhat similar to what it looks like now. The biggest change could come with how customers shop for groceries. “Customers will want to shop the way they want to shop,” he says. He sees other changes ahead around product offerings: “People like new and interesting products.”
  • Bring it home: Jones thinks the impact of grocery delivery services and prepared foods will increase. “It’s growing at a fast rate,” he says. “The curve will pick up more.”
  • Play to win: There isn’t a single company Jones sees as the main competition for Publix. Instead, it’s the opposite. Competition is everyone, he says.
  • Our pleasure: It’s important, Jones says, for Publix to maintain its uniqueness from other grocery options customers have. What is that uniqueness? He says it’s the company’s employees.
  • Serve shoppers: Publix is known for its customer service — from employees who walk with customers to help them find products they need to employees who take grocery carts to customers’ cars. A key to customer service, Jones says, is to first define what it is. And customer service can mean different things for different people. For millennial shoppers, he says, it could mean self-checkout lanes. Once you define it, you have to emphasize it as a value, Jones says.  
  • Dream come true: If he were talking to a clerk working at a Publix store, Jones would offer simple advice — to follow his or her dream. For those whose dream is to rise in the ranks at Publix, he says it helps that employees have “skin in the game.” Associates can purchase Publix stock after a year of working for the privately held company. One final piece of advice for that clerk? “Learn as much as you can about the business and be totally committed.”

 

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