Sunday, April 22, 2018
Business

Former bag boy who found his 'family' at Publix five decades ago retiring as top executive

Tom McLaughlin was 17 years old when he started a bag boy job at a Winter Haven Publix. He had no family. He was in trouble a lot.

"I wasn't a very good kid," McLaughlin recalls.

Something happened at that Publix. Co-workers took an interest in him. The cashiers pestered him about how he did on tests at school. They asked what he was doing on weekends to ensure he stayed out of trouble.

McLaughlin, who had been on his own since he was 13, finally felt like he had a family. He hasn't worked anywhere since.

McLaughlin's career at Publix has spanned 48 years. He climbed the company ladder to become a divisional vice president. There are only five of those in the entire company.

Next week, McLaughlin, now 65, will retire, ending a remarkable career that began — like many high-ranking executives at Publix — in the humblest of ways.

"It wasn't long after I first started at Publix that I realized this was my family," he said.

McLaughlin has left an impression on Publix that just about every shopper sees. His role was to design what the stores look and feel like, so people who find shopping at Publix pleasurable generally have him to thank. He also oversaw day-to-day operations at nearly 300 stores in Central Florida, including Tampa Bay.

As part of that role, he was involved with Special Olympics Florida and played a key role in Publix's commitment to hiring workers with disabilities.

On Tuesday, Special Olympics athletes gathered at the St. Petersburg store at Fourth Street and 38th Avenue N to learn how to do Publix jobs, including frosting cakes, rolling meatballs and picking up lobsters out of the seafood tank. McLaughlin, a member of the board of directors for Special Olympics Florida, attended to show his support. He was beaming the entire time.

That Publix in St. Petersburg created quite a stir when it opened because it offers a lot more natural and organic products than the traditional Publix, and has a different store layout that includes a speciality cheese section, larger wine selection, hot bar and olive station.

McLaughlin, by the way, designed it.

He'll leave behind this legacy: Publix is implementing his design in all new grocery stores opening outside of Florida, where the company is expanding.

"This is what you'll see in North Carolina now," he said with a proud smile. "We changed the flow in these stores. The future of Publix stores is definitely focused on the experience."

And by experience, he means the sights, the smells and the general feel that Publix's loyal customers have come to appreciate.

The last store McLaughlin designed is currently under construction at 700 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg. He expects it to open later this year. The highly anticipated store is expected to add even more sizzle to the city's dynamic downtown.

McLaughlin has seen Publix transform and grow at an incredible rate over the years. Since he found his home at Publix nearly five decades ago, the company has expanded into new states and now operates more than 1,000 stores in the Southeast.

He is thankful to have been a part of it.

"Growth is important to our stockholders, and I think Publix is in a good position to keep doing that," he said. "But Florida will always be our home. There will be more growth in Florida than any other state year after year."

Contract Justine Griffin at [email protected] Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Published: 04/21/18
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18