LAKELAND — Mark C. Hollis, the former president of Publix Super Markets, who started his career with the grocer when he was 12 years old bagging potatoes, died Friday. He was 78.
Hollis worked with Publix for nearly 60 years and served as president from 1984 to 1995. During his tenure as top executive, the company grew from 276 stores with annual sales of $3.2 billion to 506 stores with sales of $9.5 billion.
"The Publix family is deeply saddened by the loss of a great leader and co-worker who made significant contributions to the growth and success of our company," said Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw. "Mark will be sorely missed by his family, our associates and the community. He was a Publix icon who had a way of captivating an audience when he spoke."
Hollis worked all areas of the supermarket, including store manager, director of personnel, director of warehousing and distribution, and vice president of public relations and public affairs. In 1974, he was elected to the board of directors.
He became president after Joe Blanton died in 1984 and worked by the principles established by Publix's founder, the late George Jenkins.
"Our whole corporate culture is built around the concept George Jenkins developed in the '30s," Hollis told the Tampa Bay Times (then the St. Petersburg Times) in 1989. "He always said, 'Treat your customer as though she was your best girlfriend.' And around here that's the way it's done."
After his tenure as president, Hollis continued part-time as vice president of the board until 1999. He remained on the board until 2005, when he was honored as director emeritus. During retirement, he spent time at his mountain home in Franklin, N.C., played tennis and took up sculpting.
He and his wife, Lynn, were philanthropists who gave generously to several organizations, including Florida Southern College, Stetson University and the Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he died after an extended illness. The couple also funded the development of Hollis Garden in Lakeland.
Hollis was born in Lakeland and earned a bachelor's degree in management and marketing from Stetson University in 1956 and a master's degree in business administration from Michigan State University.
Founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Publix is the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States. It has 1,067 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee, and posted $27 billion in sales in 2011.
In addition to his wife of 57 years, Hollis is survived by three sons, Clayton, Publix's vice president of public affairs, Jack of Babson Park and Dean of Omaha, Neb.; and 11 grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. today at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to a charity of choice.