July 22, 2020
Investing in Your Greatest Asset

Maria Brous has worked for Publix Super Markets since 1990, when she was just 14 years old. She stuck with the regional grocer through college and a brief stint as a middle school teacher. She’s now the company’s director of media and community relations.

I never felt that deep sense of loyalty to the companies I worked for during my high school and college years, but this isn’t uncommon at Publix, she told me in an interview earlier this year . Store managers average 25 years with the company, which prefers to promote from within.

What fuels this devotion? Ownership. It’s a tradition that goes back to founder George Jenkins — Publix staff call him “Mr. George.”

Jenkins wanted employees to share ownership in his company from its start in 1930. Buying shares of stock at that time would have been a financial stretch for workers, so he awarded each employee an extra $2 a week. This was held and accrued to pay for the stock. 

Jenkins died in 1996, but the tradition lives on. Publix is now the largest employee-owned company in the U.S. It still awards stock to its more than 200,000 associates, who can purchase more on top of that. 

Ownership permeates how associates and management discuss the business. “We talk about Publix Pride all the time, and we talk about taking care of our business,” says Brous. “There’s definitely skin in the game. There’s investment there.”

According to Bank Director’s 2020 Compensation Survey , 13% of respondents say their bank offers equity compensation or similar ownership to all employees; another 53% offer it to some. 

Publix boasts a strong reputation for customer service, ranking in the top 10 in Newsweek’s Best Customer Service Companies 2020. Brous stressed to me that ownership has been an essential ingredient to creating this culture.

“We own our company,” she says. “When you own something, you’ll take better care of it.”

Emily McCormick / vice president of research for Bank Director
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Bank leadership teams should consider how to alleviate this huge stress
point for their employees.

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Emily McCormick / vice president of research for Bank Director