Lakeland-based Publix is a grocery juggernaut.
With more than 1,200 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, Publix is know for dominating the grocery landscape. Since its founding by George Jenkins in 1930, the grocery store chain has grown into a company with sales of $36.1 billion in 2018.
The late founder, known affectionately as Mr. George, is still a much-talked-about part of Publix culture today. There’s even an award named after him — recently presented to five store managers and a support leader. Publix says the George W. Jenkins Award goes to those who “exemplify leadership, perpetuate the Publix culture and demonstrate commitment to our founder's vision” — a tall order.
One of the most recent recipients is Dan Murphy, store manager of the University Walk Publix near the intersection of University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge Road, on the border between Manatee and Sarasota counties. Murphy considers himself a servant leader, and his approach involves healthy helpings of compliments, dished out to employees on a regular basis.
During Murphy’s time with Publix, he has been guided by longstanding corporate principles — taking care of associates and customers and keeping clean, stocked stores. “There have been lots of changes, but really, nothing’s changed,” he says.
Before Murphy was a George W. Jenkins Award winner, he had his own experiences with the founder. As a young man of 18 or 19, when he was a stock clerk, Murphy met Jenkins. The founder was nice and humble, says Murphy, who has worked for Publix for 34 years. “He sat with us for 45 minutes — two stock clerks from Sarasota.” Later, when Murphy, now 54, was a manager, Jenkins came into his store on the North Trail. “Mr. George was very humble,” he says. “I try to follow in his footsteps. I truly believe I’m a servant to my associates.”
A typical day for Murphy involves arriving at the store and walking the floor. He greets everyone, checks on the different departments and sees how the sales floor looks. “I make it a point to not get on my computer,” he says. “That can dictate your day. I don’t like to spend a lot of time in the office. I like to be on the sales floor talking to associates and customers.”
Murphy manages about 260 employees. About 30,000 customers shop at the store a week. With that many people coming through the door and that many people looking to Murphy for leadership, one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is the importance of maintaining his composure, even when it’s chaotic. He’s says he’s able to do that because of his years of experience. “Nothing can replace living through it,” he says.
At Murphy’s store, there’s longevity among his employees, too. Many have been working at Publix for five, 10, 15 and even 20 years. “They’re basically your extended second family,” he says. A favorite part of the job for Murphy is when he sees talent in employees and talks to them about moving up in the company. He also enjoys following their careers. Murphy says, “They end up doing things they never thought they were capable of.”
‘I truly believe I’m a servant to my associates.’ — Dan Murphy, Publix
On a wall in the upstairs conference room at the store, a mural of large puzzle pieces displays the signatures of employees who have been promoted to another store as a way to acknowledge their contributions. “They will forever be enshrined in our store on our wall,” Murphy says.
Employees who work one year and at least 1,000 hours are eligible to become a part owner of Publix through stock ownership. “That, to me, is one of the greatest secrets of Publix,” Murphy says, because employees take a little bit better care when they have their own money at stake. It creates a concern level that wouldn’t exist otherwise, he says, and it’s fairly uncommon in the retail environment.
Murphy’s management team includes 17 people — a manager for each department and an assistant manager. He meets with them weekly and solicits their ideas. “I like when we all come together,” he says. “I never run it like a dictatorship.”
Murphy is also big on praising employees who have done something well. When a customer wrote in recently about a positive experience with an employee in the produce department, Murphy went downstairs to talk to that employee. He shook his hand and gave him a copy of the note from the customer. Murphy also gave him a “Difference-Maker” card to acknowledge the job well done. He says, “I’m quick to compliment when I see someone doing something right.”