LAKELAND, Fla. — Charlie Jenkins Jr., who led Publix Super Markets to its first $1 billion profit year, last week announced plans to retire as chief executive officer of the retailer based here. Ed Crenshaw, currently president of Publix, will assume the CEO role upon Jenkins' retirement on March 29, 2008.
Jenkins, a nephew of Publix founder George W. Jenkins, will remain a member of the board of directors for the company and is expected to assume the role as chairman following his retirement. His decision to step down was prompted by a desire to retire by age 65, Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said. Jenkins will turn 65 a few days following his planned retirement.
Todd Jones, currently serving as senior vice president, business product development, will assume Crenshaw's role as president.
A grandson of George W. Jenkins, Crenshaw, 56, will become the fourth CEO of Publix. Charlie Jenkins served as CEO since 2001, taking over for his cousin Howard Jenkins, who succeeded George Jenkins in 1989. Charlie is also set to succeed Howard Jenkins as chairman of the board. George Jenkins passed away in 1996.
“They are such a tight-knit family at that company, both literally and figuratively, that I don't think they will miss a beat as they hand off the baton,” Jason Whitmer, an analyst for Cleveland Research, Cleveland, told SN.
Jones, 45, is not related to the founding family.
Soft-spoken, and known for his dry wit and decisive leadership style, Charlie Jenkins Jr. made his mark in the real estate department at Publix, learning from Joe Blanton, one of George Jenkins' top lieutenants. As CEO, he oversaw a period of rapid store, sales and profit expansion. Publix had sales of $14.6 billion and profits of $530 million in fiscal year 2000; Publix for the 2006 fiscal year reported sales of $21.6 billion and profits of $1.1 billion.
Publix saw a net gain of 247 stores between those periods, including a new arrival in Tennessee, while increasing store counts in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
Joseph W. Carvin, a former vice president of human resources at Publix, worked directly with Jenkins for 13 years. Jenkins wrote the foreword to Carvin's book, “A Piece of the Pie: The Story of Customer Service at Publix.”
“I think he brought a tremendous dry wit and sense of humor to the job. Although a lot of people consider him kind of hard to get to know, the people who do know him just loved his sense of humor,” Carvin told SN. “He made everyone very comfortable, even though he was a real decision-maker.
“Charlie listens to opinions, is very respectful and open-minded in gathering those opinions, and then he makes his decisions,” Carvin added. “I'm sorry to see him go. He was very decisive, had very strong leadership, and was very likable at the same time.”
Jenkins used a subtle humor to reinforce business decisions. In a 2004 interview in SN, he told of handing out engineer's scales as favors at real estate shows, telling developers they were “good only for measuring 10-foot parking spaces.” It was his way of reinforcing Publix's desire to build stores only where developers included extra-wide parking spaces set at 45-degree angles — an arrangement loved by shoppers but loathed by developers, who generally preferred to provide only the minimum required by local building codes.
“If 8½ feet was acceptable, the developers wanted 200 8½-foot spaces,” Jenkins said. “We said no: We'll take 160 10-foot spaces.”
Crenshaw, the Publix president set to succeed Jenkins, has a background in store operations and previously served as the first division vice president in Atlanta as Publix successfully expanded there. He was promoted to executive vice president of retailing in 1994 and to president in 1996.
Crenshaw is a longtime director of Food Marketing Institute and of Food For All, a food industry hunger relief program.
“Ed has served on the board for a number of years and is one of the most ardent supporters of the Food For All mission,” Denis Zegar, president of Food For All, told SN. “Publix raises around $1.5 million for Food For All every year just from the holiday program, partly because everyone at Publix believes in Ed. He's a great leader that way.”
Jones began his career in 1980 as a front-service clerk in a New Smyrna Beach, Fla., store and became a store manager in 1988. He was promoted to district manager in 1997, regional director in 1999 and vice president of the Jacksonville division in 2003. In 2005, Jones was promoted to his current position of senior vice president.
“We're pleased to have leaders with the experience of Ed and Todd who are ready to take the next steps in their careers,” Charlie Jenkins said in a statement. “I'm confident they will be successful in continuing Publix's success.”
Additional reporting: Mark Hamstra