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Bay area company CEOs tell a forum how they got their businesses' mojo back in hard times

TAMPA — Tough times helped Publix, Jabil and Honey Baked Ham get their mojo back, the company CEOs said Wednesday.

Only Honey Baked Ham cut jobs to maneuver through recession. But all three re-engineered to get closer to customers.

Tactics for tough times were a common thread when the three spoke to 1,000 business executives and students at the annual University of Tampa Fellows Forum.

Aside from discount coupons at the register, Honey Baked beefed up business-to-business gift buying online, enhanced sit-down dining in 400 stores and put kiosks full of spiral-sliced meats in 75 supermarkets.

"We froze employee salaries, but cut pay only for executives," CEO Chuck Bengochea said.

Rather than pull back, Publix chief executive Ed Crenshaw stepped on the gas. He doubled capital spending to $1 billion last year, opening 50 new stores and remodeling 115 more.

"We continued to invest in quality and customer service," he said, noting Publix topped all supermarkets in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Publix was also the only big Florida grocer not to lose market share to Walmart.

He invoked the legacy of his grandfather, George Jenkins, who shaped the Lakeland grocer's formula in the Depression. Take on no debt. Pay better than any rival. Promote from within. Train employees to treat customers "like kings" and "never be greedy with the (workers) who make you successful."

At Jabil Inc., the St. Petersburg electronic components maker, the 2001 dot-com crash was more brutal than the recession. Asian rivals priced Jabil's two biggest American competitors out of business. So this St. Petersburg manufacturer with two-thirds of its workers in the United States went global. Today, just 6,000 of 100,000 employees on Jabil's payroll work in the United States.

And it found new industries to outfit with parts for iPhones, Blackberrys, HDTV sets, HP LaserJet printers, the health care industry and solar panels.

Setting up shop overseas was not about just lower costs, said Tim Main, Jabil chief executive. It's about being where the customers are. The U.S. economy is forecast to grow at about 2.5 percent a year, while China and India are growing at 8 percent.

"We believe in U.S. manufacturing in the U.S., but it will have to be more efficient and responsive to what the customer wants."

He recalled an inventor friend who asked a U.S. company to make his wireless headset.

"They wanted money for the tooling, were resistant to his time frame and made it hard," he said. "A Taiwanese company did the tooling for half the price, built it faster and made it easy. One company was hungry for the job. The other felt entitled to it."

Bay area company CEOs tell a forum how they got their businesses' mojo back in hard times 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 10:06pm]
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