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A corporate role model

Clarence Otis Jr., CEO

By TIMES STAFF WRITER
Published March 18, 2007


He's a rare combination in Florida. Clarence Otis Jr., 50, is a black CEO of a successful Fortune 500 company based in Orlando. And he is deeply involved in the larger effort to make workplace diversity a more compelling and mainstream concern in Corporate America. Here's a look at Otis and one of Florida's most pro-diversity businesses.

Position: CEO since 2004, Darden Restaurants, Orlando.

Company: Owns restaurant chains including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Smoky Bones Barbecue and Bahama Breeze. Ranks fourth among major restaurant companies on Fortune magazine's just-released 2007 list of "most admired companies."

Diversity role: Otis is one of only six black chief executives of a Fortune 500 corporation. He serves on the board of the Executive Leadership Council, a group founded in 1986 by 19 black corporate chiefs who wanted to provide African-American executives of Fortune 1000 companies with a support network and an outreach program for college students.

Quote: "The biggest challenge is not having the role models - not seeing yourself - at the senior levels early in your career."

Personal: Born in Vicksburg, Miss. The son of a janitor, he grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams College and earned a law degree from Stanford.

Favorite Book: The Shape of the River by William Bowen and Derek Bok, two former university presidents who examine the admissions policies of several institutions and follow the fortunes of their minority graduates over a period of years.

Diversity "vision statement": "Darden Restaurants recognizes the value of a business environment that embraces individual differences, including those among our guests, employees, business partners and all others in the communities in which we operate, and we are committed to creating and maintaining such an environment. This commitment is based upon the recognition and belief that diversity is critical to our ability to excel in an increasingly diverse and dynamic marketplace."