Based in Lakeland, Fla., and run by a Southern dynasty (two other cousins and a brother-in-law are on the board), Publix defies Spanish moss-covered stereotypes, winning accolades as a progressive employee-owned company, including Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work for 10 years running. Retail consultant Burt Flickinger told the Lakeland Ledger that Jenkins was the "valedictorian" of the current crop of grocery CEOs. "He was a great innovator and a great marketer. And a very tough competitor."
Jenkins, 64, a nephew of Publix founder George W. Jenkins, replaced his cousin Howard as CEO in 2001. Under his direction, the chain grew from 655 stores to 928. Crenshaw, 57, married George Jenkins' daughter and began as a stock clerk in Lake Wales in 1974. He made his mark as the architect of Publix' first out-of-state launch into Atlanta, where the chain is now third behind Kroger and Wal-Mart.
With 2007 sales of $23 billion, Publix has benefited from the declining fortunes of Albertsons, Winn-Dixie and Piggly Wiggly in the southeast. It has experimented with new formats including Pix convenience stores, Sabor markets for Hispanic shoppers and a natural format called GreenWise Markets. It owns 41 Crispers salad restaurants in Florida, and in November, Publix opened Apron's Make-Ahead Meals, the grocery industry's first foray into the $1 billion meal preparation business.
"We don't claim to have the biggest stores or the lowest prices," Crenshaw told the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce last month. "Our position in the market is very simple: high quality and great service."