What It's Like to Go Undercover at Publix

(c) H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock
By Alex Vallis Posted March 04, 2016

Money, glazed doughnuts and 'bleeding green.'
 

This week, F&W sister brand Fortune unveiled its annual ranking of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. In a corresponding essay titled "Bag Boy Confidential: My 5 Days As a Publix Employee," journalist Christopher Tkaczyk goes behind-the-scenes as an "associate" to uncover how the Florida-based supermarket chain has managed to make the list nearly 20 years in a row.

And frankly—until he gets to the starting salary of $8/hour—Tkaczyk makes the job sound pretty great. The company and staff welcomed him as an embedded journalist, and he had pretty good luck with unknowing customers too, including an elderly Brooklyn native he managed to placate with some crusty bread.

Here, a few highlights and fascinating details from the story:

1. Rising through the ranks pays off. "The company’s formal employee stock-ownership plan (ESOP) was created in 1974 by Mr. George to replace a previous plan that began in 1959 and awards free shares of stock to associates... At the current stock price, a veteran store manager who has accrued 20,000 shares (not unusual) would have holdings worth $904,000."

2. Lifers start young. Tkaczyk meets an aspiring bakery manager: "The 19-year-old bears a resemblance to Princess Elsa in Disney’s Frozen, but her voice reminds me a bit of The Nanny’s Fran Drescher."

3. They pay for school. "The Publix tuition reimbursement program is open to any associate with six months of service who works an average of at least 10 hours per week, and it provides up to $3,200 per year and a total of $12,800 total per worker. Last year the company paid out a total of $5 million in reimbursements."

4. Underscoring the company's mission to promote from within, the new CEO started as a bagger 36 years ago and never went to college. The company sent him to an executive education course at Harvard Business School to prep for the role.

5. Consider it cult-like or sports-like, but all this has led to a level of pride that's referred to as "bleeding green."

Read the full story here.

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