Ed Crenshaw Reviews His Publix Career

Ed CrenshawA 30-year-old Ed Crenshaw faced a tough decision seven years into his Publix career: Should he stay or leave to join his father’s food brokerage firm? He sought the counsel of his grandfather, Publix Super Markets founder George Jenkins.

“He implied I should leave Publix,” Crenshaw, now 66, told members of the Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association Thursday afternoon at the Grasslands clubhouse. “He said, ‘You’ll make more money and you won’t work near as hard.’ To a 30-year-old that’s a pretty attractive deal … But I do believe that God had a hand in the decision that I made to stay at Publix even though I really didn’t know what the future held for me.”

What the future held included a 42-year career that culminated in the role as Publix CEO, a position from which he retired in April. He remains chairman of the board, which brings him to Publix’ Lakeland headquarters a day or two each week.

Crenshaw’s decision illustrates what he called the 1-3-5 rule, he said during a talk that might have been titled “Publix … where working is a pleasure.”

Here’s how he described the 1-3-5 rule: “If you stay there for one year, I believe you’ll be there for three years. And if you stay at Publix three years, I bet you’re gonna be there five years. And if you stay at Publix five years — we’ve got ya!”

At five years, he said, employees receive a benefits statement that shows how much stock they own. They realize it’s not a huge stake yet, he said, “but the thing that strikes people is they say, ‘Publix has given me this stock in this company that I have come to love in five years. I wonder what it will be in 10 years or 15 years or 42 years’ — and they get it.”

Some other quotes from Crenshaw’s talk:

People ask me all the time, ‘How do you get people to be so nice? How do you get them to be so productive? How do you get them up early in the morning and work late at night?’ It’s easy. When people have ownership of something, they do what it takes to improve the value of that ownership. It truly does make a difference.

About his early career:

I never managed a Publix store. I only managed a Food World store (Food World was a discount chain owned by Publix in the 1970s and 80s) — a little piece of trivia that people don’t know. I was told to report to Lake Miriam at 7 o’clock in the morning, and my schedule had me working until 11 o’clock that night. That was one of only two stores that stayed open until 11. What I didn’t realize is I was on the fast track, so I had to be back there at 3 o’clock the next morning to open the store!

About Todd Jones, his successor as CEO:

He is truly a product of the Publix culture. He started out bagging groceries at 15 years old. He came from a very poor family. He had to work to support his family. He did not have the opportunity to go to college and get a formal education. … He went to work every day to learn something new. I’ve heard Barney (Barnett, Publix’ vice chair) say he probably knows more about our business than any one individual in our company because he has done every one of those jobs. He’s constantly working to develop others because others worked to develop him.

About retiring:

People asked me frequently, ‘Ed why did you retire?’ … It’s an easy answer: Because I have ownership in this company, and believe it or not, I think the company is better off with the changes that we have made.