This Week in Business History Episode 16

“He moved to Atlanta in 1924. At first, George Jenkins would enroll in Georgia Tech to study electrical engineering. He’d work in the store by day and study at night, but Jenkins’s fate would not be the engineering profession.”

-Scott Luton, Host of This Week in Business History, sharing about George Washington Jenkins, the Founder of Publix Grocery Stores


The ‘This Week in Business History’ Series on Supply Chain Now shares some of the most relevant business and global supply chain events from years past. It will shine a light on some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and even lessons learned from our collective business history.

In this episode, we focus in on the birth of Publix – – and some of the key developments in the early years – – as well as some of the unique elements that can be found in the organization’s history and culture.

Scott Luton (00:12):

Good morning, Scott Luton here with you on this edition of this week in business history. Welcome to today’s show on this program, which is part of the supply chain. Now family of programming. We take a look back at the upcoming week, and then we share some of the most relevant events and milestones from years past, of course, mostly business focused with a little dab global supply chain. And occasionally we might just throw in a good story outside of our primary realm. So I invite you to join me on this. Look back in history to identify some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and perhaps lessons learned in our collective business journey. Now let’s dive in to this week in business history.

Scott Luton (01:12):

Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m your host Scott Luton. And today on this edition of this week in business history, we are focused on the week of September 28th. Hey, one quick programming note, before we dive into today’s show big thanks to our listeners in the United States. As this podcast recently hit the business podcast leadership charts, according to chartable. In fact, we recently cracked the top 100 for podcasts focused on business news in the U S that’s wonderful news that we celebrate with you, our listeners, you are our North star, and always, we invite you to join us by searching for this week in business history, wherever you get your podcasts from and click subscribe. So you don’t miss a single thing. And for that, we are greatly appreciative. Thanks so much for listening. Hey, in today’s episode, we’re focused on the grocery industry. Talk about an industry that has been disrupted in recent years, and there’s also been a ton of innovation in the space.

Scott Luton (02:06):

Let’s dive into that story. We’ll also be sharing a slew of other milestones and accomplishments. Hey, it’s been a busy week, but thank you for joining us here today. On this week in business history, powered by our team here at supply chain. Now, did you know that the average us consumer spends about 53 hours per year in the grocery store? Now I imagine that figure has changed quite a bit in recent years, because if you’re like my family, we get a lot of our weekly groceries delivered, but regardless grocery stores, especially here in the States play a big role in our consumer labs. And we all probably have our favorites, stores, products, and even people that we get very accustomed to growing up. I took a closer look at the grocery store business. As I worked for Dwin Dixie, which had a much bigger footprint on the market back then for $4 and 35 cents an hour.

Scott Luton (03:01):

I bagged groceries, stocked shelves, unloaded trucks, shagged the floors at the end of the night, gathered shopping cards from the parking lot and had the time of my life. I really enjoyed my colleagues and particularly enjoyed the customer service component. That was a big part of the role. There always seemed to be a lot of easy problems or questions that were mostly easy to address. Fast forward to 2020 Kroger is a grocery store we visit the most. Now, in fact, Kroger has become the largest supermarket chain in the U S and the second largest overall retailer, only behind the retailing giant Walmart. But today we’re going to be diving into the story of Publix on September 29th, 1907, George Washington Jenkins was born in warm Springs, Georgia. Now warm Springs is an intriguing small Southern town situated in Western mid Georgia. Originally named bullet Ville. The town gained reputation for its mineral Springs, that many claim to be warm healing waters.

Scott Luton (04:06):

Franklin D Roosevelt famously had a cottage built in warm Springs that became known as the little white house given how much Tom FDR spent there about six miles North of warm Springs. George Jenkins family had a general store in the community of Harris city. Georgia Jenkins would later Quip that they sold everything in that store. Quote everything from coffins to collar buttons in the store, catered to farmers in an age 12, George Jenkins began working in his father’s store. A few short years later, the boll weevil would devastate the Jenkins general stores, primary customer base prompting George Jenkins father to move a store to Atlanta. George would stay behind and Harris city to finish selling off the inventory and to graduate from high school. He’d moved to Atlanta in 1924. At first, George Jenkins would enroll in Georgia tech to study electric engineering. He’d work in the store by day and study at night, but Jenkins fate would not be the engineering profession.

Scott Luton (05:12):

He tried his hand at a variety of odd jobs. George would spend exactly one night as a cab driver that evening he’d pick up a bunch of college students in Atlanta that evidently had consumed a few adult beverages. And as the cab arrived at their destination, George Jenkins would say, quote, every time one of them got out of the cab, he tell me good old Joe would take care of the fair. Finally, all of them had gotten out, but one, I guess it was good old joke. He was sound asleep and didn’t have a Dom on him in a quote, George Jenkins would quit his cab driving job the next morning. I don’t blame him to you. One of the jobs that Jenkins really liked at the time was working as a clerk at a Piggly wiggly store. Have you ever shopped at the pig as it’s affectionately known, perhaps it was here where George Jenkins passion for all things grocery began.

Scott Luton (06:06):

He was doing really well as a clerk at Piggly wiggly. So well, in fact that a couple of months later Jenkins was asked to fill in for a manager that had become ill. And then over the next several months, George Jenkins began to fill in for a variety of managers at a variety of stores throughout Atlanta. But fate would intervene shortly into his grocery career, real estate King Colin George Jenkins was hired to make calls to people, to either list their home or buy a home. He was paid $30 a week. His boss had the Florida real estate boom on his mind, and he convinced George Jenkins that they both could make a ton of money by moving to the sunshine state and conducting their real estate business there. George was ready. In fact, he’d already bought a cardboard suitcase at the pawn store for two bucks, but at the very last minute, his boss decided not to go as his entire family wasn’t bought in on the decision, but George Washington Jenkins had the bug.

Scott Luton (07:04):

So he went, ultimately he’d arrive in Tampa with non dollars in his pocket. Now without a plan, a job or much of anything, serendipity would step in George would meet through friends of friends, a man who owned a chain of 14 Piggly Wigglys stores in the Tampa, Florida area. That man upon learning of George Jenkins experience at the pig in Atlanta, well, he taught George into working for his chain of stores. The year was 1924, and millions of people were moving into Florida. Many were trying their hand at the real estate game while that was Jenkins original plan, he made the adjustment and for $15 a week, he’d push brooms and serve as a clerk at the Piggly wiggly. But George would truly throw himself into the new job. He would say years later, that quote, if you want to make an impression on someone actions speak louder than words in quote Jenkins would earn a promotion where he’d be managing a small store in st.

Scott Luton (08:07):

Petersburg, Florida within just eight months, Tom Jenkins would lead that store to increase gross sales, five fold. Of course, that type of success would earn him another promotion. The operator of the chain of Piggly wiggly stores would promote George Jenkins to manage their biggest store, which was located in winter Haven, Florida. George would run that store for four years from 1926 to 1930. Now this was a transformational period for Florida for many, probably the real estate boom would go bust Florida and its economy would be hammered by the 1926 Miami hurricane, the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. And of course like everyone else, the wall street crash of 1929, the onset of the depression, which triggered the sale of the chain of Piggly wiggly stores to an owner in Atlanta, some 450 miles away from winter Haven, having not met the owner, George Jenkins took it upon himself to drive to Atlanta, to meet his new boss upon arrival.

Scott Luton (09:11):

George was told that the owner was taught up with important phone calls, important business phone calls. George Jenkins would later say that he could hear through the thin office walls. What his new boss was tied up with. He was on the phone talking about his weekend golf game instead of electing to meet with one of his new acquisitions, most capable leaders. The refusal of the owner to connect with George would infuriate him. Jenkins would drive all the way back to winter Haven, Florida with his hair on fire, upon his return. George Jenkins not only quit his job, but he decided to open his own store and compete directly with his former employer. Publix food stores inc was born with 30 shares of stock valued at $100. Each George Jenkins would keep 13 of those shares. He sold four of the shares to the meat market manager, Hugh Brownell, who left the pig to follow George to the new venture.

Scott Luton (10:12):

Nick Ellison was the former assistant manager at Piggly wiggly who also bought four shares and followed George. Ultimately Publix food stores incorporated would have $2,500 to start operations with of the $1,300 that George put in that came from his own savings that he was putting aside towards buying a new car. He say later, quote had to walk, but I was the proud owner of the first Publix market in quote, have you ever wondered about the name Publix and where that came from? George Jenkins would say that there was a chain of theaters in Florida at the time called Publix. He liked the name and decided to, in his words, borrow it three years later, Jenkins former employer, the Piggly wiggly next door. Well, it would close Publix was holding its own and they made it through the great depression, key to the store’s operation, where two things, an immense focus on customer service and George Jenkins belief that employees should share in the profit in store ownership.

Scott Luton (11:18):

In fact, George would find a way to ensure that all eight of his employees at the time would become company stockholders. George Jenkins, generous spirit wouldn’t stop. There has been said that in those tough times, the country was going through shoplifting was common. George would regularly catch shoplifters only to send them home with a bag of groceries. Publix would grow to two stores, but George Jenkins was looking at regional and national trends and wanted to change and improve the customer shopping experience. The supermarket concept was being born and Publix would become one of the pioneers in the new market. George Jenkins would sell his two stores, bundle a variety of resources, including an orange Grove that he owned all to invest into his first supermarket or as his bankers called it. George is marble glass and stucco food palace. So in 1940, the first contemporary public supermarket would open and it looked different to shoppers.

Scott Luton (12:22):

It had electric doors that would open automatically fluorescent lighting, which was not common at the time. Air conditioning, wide Isles, specially designed frozen food and dairy cases in which George would help design and a nice even paved parking lot. Hey, don’t laugh. But George Jenkins even wanted to offer his customers a water fountain that featured get this cold water, a nice respite from the hot Florida heat. So George would figure out a way to run copper tubing through his refrigerator case, leading to the water fountain, all told this new store had the wow factor, illustrating George Jenkins commitment to the ultimate shopping experience, but perhaps what caught the attention of shoppers the most were those automated doors that swooshed open and shut. George Jenkins had seen electric eye opening doors in New York on an earlier visit. And he was determined to incorporate a similar door in his new store.

Scott Luton (13:22):

He did and believe it or not folks would come from all around Florida just to get a peek at those automated doors. And yet many would make their way through those automated doors and spend money at the new Publix supermarket. Mr. George, as his employees known as associates would call George Washington, Jenkins was very proud of this new store, but Jenkins also knew that the go big he’d have to expand and add locations. World war II made business expansion very difficult, especially the construction resources alone. So Jenkins would shit, his strategy over to acquisition. And he began negotiations to acquire a 19 store grocery chain that accompany in Lakeland, Florida was operating Publix would close the deal and acquire at 19 all American stores from Lakeland grocery company. And one of the first things George Jenkins did after the acquisition was to upgrade each of those stores to the new list. [inaudible]

Scott Luton (14:30):

public’s standard. Now with 20 stores to nucleus had been formed for what would eventually grow into one of the world’s leading grocers, looking back, George Jenkins said the acquisition of those 19, all American stores was the turning point, but it was the turning point. He said because of the incredibly talented people that were now part of the public’s team Jenkins said, quote, I sure didn’t get much in the way of stores and equipment, but I got some wonderful people after all. How often do you get four vice presidents in one day in quote Jenkins would travel a great deal, always looking for ideas, innovation, and inspiration. Those travels would lead to a variety of new things in the stores. Bakeries and floral products were added in the 1950s. Delis came online in the 1960s. Electronic scanners were owned the scene in the 1970s. The eighties brought a variety of innovations, no fee at TMS in the grocery stores, debit card transactions and pharmacies at the supermarkets in 1983, a critical development took place.

Scott Luton (15:42):

Carol Jenkins Barnett would join the board of directors at Publix. Now Carol was one of George Jenkins, six children. Her leadership was one of the driving forces in growth and expansion she’d serve on the board until 2016, during her tenure, Publix would grow into five States. The company would also open its 1000th store becoming one of only five U S grocery store retailers that could make that claim. In 2016, Todd Jones would become CEO. Jones is a 36 year public’s associate who began his career at Publix as a bagger or in-company vernacular a front service clerk. He is the first member outside of the Jenkins family to serve a CEO, despite all the change. What hasn’t changed is a company’s focus on service and its own associates as to service, Publix has been rated by a variety of sources for its customer satisfaction and overall experience. With regard to its army of associates, Publix has been named by fortune magazine as one of its hundred best companies to work for for a remarkable long period. From 1998 to 2020, it was also named by Forbes magazine in 2018 as one of America’s best employers. It was also ranked number four by in 2018 for best job security. So what lessons can we learn here with this history in a nutshell of George Washington, Jenkins and Publix, Hey, some easy ones come to mind, treat your employees as well as you treat the customer. Never compromise quality. Do good. Do lots of good and probably

Speaker 3 (17:27):

One other big one. Don’t put off

Scott Luton (17:29):

A meeting with one of your team members so that you can analyze your weekend golf game. They might just quit and launch quality competition. A few other items to note on this week in business history for the week of September 28th. Well, not Tobar third, 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune opened her first school for African American students in Daytona beach, Florida on October 2nd, 1915, Chuck Williams founded Williams Sonoma owned September 28th, 1928. Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming completely by accident on October 1st, 1931, the George Washington bridge opened in the U S linking New Jersey and New York, whether they liked it or not on October 3rd, 1949, w E R D or word would open in Atlanta as the first black owned radio station on October 2nd, 1959, the Twilight zone and rod Serling would premiere on CBS on October 2nd, 1967. Thurgood Marshall is sworn in as the first African American justice on the United States Supreme court. And on September 29th, 1975 WGPR becomes the first black owned and operated television station in the U S that wraps up this edition of this week in business history.

Scott Luton (18:59):

Those were some of the stories that really stood out to us, but Hey, what do you think? What stands out to you? Tell us, shoot us a note to Amanda at supply chain. Now or you can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, even Instagram, share your comments there. We’re here to listen to you. Hope you’ve enjoyed our latest edition of this week in business history. Hey, be sure to check out a wide variety of industry thought leadership at supply chain. Now Other series like tequila, sunrise supply chain is boring. And one of our newest series called tech talk led by Karin bursa. Stay tuned for all of that, and you can learn more at supply chain now, Hey, friendly reminder. You can find this week in business history, wherever you get your podcasts from. We drop a new episode every Monday on behalf of the entire team here at this week in business history and supply chain. Now this is Scott Luton wishing all of our listeners, nothing but the best. Thank you so much. We’re very grateful for your support. Do good give forward and be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see next time here on this week in business history. Thanks for budding.


Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


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