Takeaway: Why a company culture of caring breeds success

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By Amanda Long, senior account director, Hughes Agency

Event: Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails monthly professional development series
Where: Endeavor, a coworking community for creatives in the ONE Building
Who Was There: 80+ creative industry and corporate marketing professionals
Presenter: Tim Cox, director of creative services, Publix Super Markets

Publix, the country’s largest associate-owned grocery store, has always known what it stands for. Its tagline, “Where shopping is a pleasure,” hasn’t changed in its 88-year existence. Nor has the brand experience, which consistently ranks high for both associates and customers, regardless of how times have changed. While Publix is in the business to sell products, its focus is helping people create experiences. This permeates into everything they do, including marketing with commercials that trigger emotional responses in customers. Publix “gets life.”

Publix’s culture also has not changed, even 22 years after the death of founder George Jenkins. At Endeavor’s Collaborators & Cocktails, its director of creative services, Tim Cox, shared why the principles that Jenkins established years ago are the reason behind the company’s continued success.

Work for someone (or something) you believe in

Jenkins was a visionary. He was very people-focused, knowing that if he took care of his associates, they would take care of Publix’s customers. When Jenkins died, Cox and his team ensured that they documented what culturally made the company so successful, commemorating the lessons he instilled, ones that are still a guiding light today:

  • Be there
  • Giving is the only way to get
  • Invest in others
  • Respect the dignity of the individual
  • The customer is queen (and king)
  • Prepare for opportunity
  • Do the right thing

In their research, they uncovered a report from 1962 where Jenkins projected Publix’s future would include ordering groceries from a telephone with a color TV-like screen. Even so, Jenkins knew that the future was still very simple: Nothing would replace stellar customer service. “When we look ahead, we are also glancing back to make sure nothing we do, no new device we employ, no new design we conceive, departs from our original principle which is to make Publix in every way possible the market where shopping is a pleasure,” Cox said.

With the rise of e-commerce, brands are becoming faceless. Being disciplined about immersing their associates in its values is the differentiator for Publix. After showing TV spots that left the audience in tears, Cox said, “It’s important to understand how to connect emotionally with your customers. When you do, they become raving fans, and they will talk about your brand more than you do. Good brand work is still where the magic is.”

Hire great people

Hiring people with the right skills is important, but it is critical to hire someone who is a right fit for the brand’s culture. “Big egos don’t work, and I learned a long time ago to find people who are better than me,” Cox said. One of Jenkins’ mantras that is still used today, which any company can embrace, is “Publix will be a little bit better place to work, or not quite as good, because of you.”

Take good care of your people

“A culture that cares about their people recruits and retains the best talent,” Cox said. The accomplishment he is most proud of? Of the 82 people on his in-house creative team, 73 have been there more than 10 years, and of those, several for more than 25. “When I look back, the highlights are the people. The work is important, but don’t overlook the people.”

Cox disputes the saying that leadership is lonely. “Not if you bring people along with you,” he said. Cox also said he seeks to find and promote leaders. “Leaders have willing followers; they care for their people and demonstrate servant leadership.”

That servant leadership is something that Jenkins possessed and instilled in those who are leading the company today. When asked later in his life what he thought he would be worth if he hadn’t given away so much, Jenkins replied, “Probably nothing.”

Prepare for opportunities

Be prepared for opportunities, even when you can’t see what’s coming. Most people prepare for opportunities they see, but when an opportunity comes up they weren’t expecting, they aren’t ready to capitalize on it. “It never ends,” Cox said. “I don’t know what the next chapter is, but you better prepare so you are ready.”

Endeavor, a creative, collaborative coworking community, presents a monthly professional development speaker series called Collaborators & Cocktails, where marketing chiefs from brands including Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton, and Nike share their marketing strategies.

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