Clarence Otis Named CEO of Darden Restaurants

Clarence Otis Jr., 48, has served up successful strategies for nine years at Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI), parent company of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill, and Seasons 52 restaurants. In December 2004, the executive vice president will become the seventh African American leading a Fortune 500 company when he succeeds Joe R. Lee. Darden operates more than 1,300 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and boasts annual sales of $5 billion.

Otis joined Darden in 1995 as vice president and treasurer and then went on to hold the positions of senior vice president of investor relations and treasurer in 1997 and chief financial officer in 1999. In 2002, he became president of Smokey Bones, the company’s fastest-growing restaurant. Under his leadership, Smokey Bones has grown from fewer than 30 restaurants three years ago to nearly 80 today. In fiscal 2004, Smokey Bones accounted for $174 million of Darden’s revenues.

“One thing you learn in the business world,” says Otis, “is that there is a certain amount of seasoning that’s required before you have the depth and breadth of experiences that you need to be a senior leader in a major company.”

Carl Brooks, president of the Executive Leadership Council, an organization of black corporate executives, says Otis displayed excellent leadership in every position he held. “I think that with Clarence’s move, it’s going to further demonstrate that there is a pool of talented African Americans ready to move into the most senior positions in corporate America,” says Brooks.

When announcing the company’s appointments, Lee expressed high confidence in Otis and Andrew H. Madsen, who will become Darden’s new president and chief operating officer. “[They] bring a breadth of business acumen and restaurant experience to their new positions,” said Lee. “They are a great team with complementary strengths that are critical to our business and a demonstrated ability to work together with great mutual respect.”

Otis says his approach to management is building and maintaining a strong leadership team. “If you go to a restaurant and you have a great experience, it’s because of a team of people working effectively,” he says. “Our culture matches that, and that’s why the organization has been so successful.”