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Publix to undergo change in leadership

By MARK ALBRIGHT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


Howard Jenkins, who steered Publix Super Markets Inc. through its biggest and fastest growth spurt, stunned the Lakeland grocery chain's stockholders Tuesday by stepping down as chief executive.

Jenkins, 50, will remain chairman of the nation's seventh-largest grocery chain. But he turned over the chief executive mantle to his cousin, Charles Jenkins Jr., 58, who has been chief operating officer for the past year and has chaired the family-controlled company's executive committee since 1990. Armed with a doctorate in business administration from Harvard, the new CEO's biggest imprint on Publix has been as the chain's principal decisionmaker on real estate since 1974.

While a majority of Publix's privately held stock is in the hands of employees, the founding family has maintained a firm grasp over the board and top executive ranks since the chain was founded in 1930. Howard Jenkins is son of the chain's founder, George Jenkins. Charles Jenkins Jr. is the son of Charles Jenkins Sr., one-time chairman of the board and the younger brother of the chain's founder.

Publix once boasted that virtually all of its senior executives, including Howard Jenkins, began their careers as grocery baggers. But Charles Jenkins, who did his doctorate work on shopping center development, began his career 32 years ago as assistant to the vice president of real estate. Five years later, he headed the department.

Howard Jenkins revealed his intentions to step down before a crowd of 200 at the company's annual stockholders meeting.

The soft-spoken Jenkins described the company as in good shape, then said he had come to a "personal decision."

"After the collective gasp spread across the audience, it got so quiet you could hear a pin drop," said Clayton Hollis, the company's vice president of public affairs.

"This will be a smooth transition," Jenkins said. "I am extremely pleased with the leadership Charlie has shown over the years and I am confident he will continue to lead us to even greater success."

Howard Jenkins, who had prostate surgery in 1998, said he was not stepping aside for health reasons and that he recently got a "clean bill of health" from his doctor. Rather, he said he wants to spend more time with his two children from a previous marriage.

Under Howard Jenkins' 11 years as chief executive, Publix annual sales almost tripled to $14.6-billion, up from $5.3-billion. The chain ventured out of its home state for the first time into South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Publix' store count hit 654, up from 357. The company plans to open 340 stores in the next five years and is opening its first stores in Birmingham, Ala.

In five years, Publix captured more than 20 percent of the grocery market in Atlanta, long a Kroger Co. stronghold.

In addition to being a supermarket executive, Charles Jenkins is a music lover. He's a past director of the Miami Opera Association and a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Board of Overseers.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

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