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Cause Magazine


My parents were very achieve- ment-oriented and believed you could become whatever you wanted to be. I always believed major companies had significant leverage and that they could make profound dif- ferences. So if you had the ability to shape the direction of a major company, then you could make a social differ- ence." Growing up in Watts


taught him something more important: how to size up all situa- tions. "You learn how to interact with a broad range of people, how to observe and listen," he said. Through the motivation from his parents, Clarence Jr. took to heart those joy rides through Beverly Hills and turned them into his reality one step at a time. He became a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions, and then an investment banker, corporate financier, and opera- tions manager. His drive and the skills he learned in the ‘hood literally took him to the top of Corporate America's food chain. Clarence achieved a liberal arts college education through a scholarship at the prestigious Williams College in Massachusetts after being encouraged to apply by Los Angeles lawyer Felix Grossman. Clarence's scholastic record at Williams was likewise a distinguished one. He graduated magna cum laude in 1977 with dual majors in economics and political science, receiving the school's Political Science Writing Prize and Phi Beta Kappa recognition in his senior year. He later moved on to Stanford University Law School in California, earning his law degree in 1980. "A lot of people reached out to help me. Positive discrim- ination happens, too." he says. After receiving his law degree, Clarence quickly landed a job on Wall Street at the investment firm Chemical Securities (now JPMorgan Securities). For four years in the early 1980s, Clarence worked in the field of corpo- rate law, specializing in the fields of securities law and mergers and acquisitions. He started out with the firm Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine and moved on to Gordon, Hurwitz, Butowsky, Weitzen, Shalov & Wein. From the start he ran with a high-fly- ing crowd. One of his clients was famed financier Carl Icahn.


Clarence later joined Darden as treasurer and was soon named chief financial officer.


Clarence’s big opening came in mid-2004 when Joe R. Lee, then CEO of Darden, announced plans to step down. Brad Blum, former president of Olive Garden, had previously left to join Burger King as CEO. That opened the way for Clarence. At the time, he was president of Smokey Bones, where he had been sent to get operating experience. Clarence 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. Our culture matches that, and that's why the organization has been so successful." Darden Restaurants, Inc. is the largest publicly traded casu- al dining restaurant company in the world, based on market share and revenues from company-owned restaurants. They serve more than 300 million meals annually at 1,427 restaurants in 49 states and Canada and boast annual sales of $5 billion. Red Lobster and Olive Garden, their flagship brands, are the market share leaders in their casual dining segments. Each chain produced sales of $2.6 billion in fiscal 2006, making Darden the only casual dining restaurant company with two restaurant brands of this scale. Based in Orlando, Florida, Darden employs nearly 160,000 people, and the company trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DRI. "One thing you learn in the business world," Clarence explains, "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." Clarence Otis, Jr. assumed the posi- tion of Chief Executive Officer of Darden Restaurants in November, 2004 and added the duties of Chairman in November, 2005. He is also a member of Darden's Board of Directors.


Clarence had originally joined Darden in 1995 as vice pres- ident and treasurer and then went on to hold the positions of sen- ior vice president of investor relations and treasurer in 1997 and chief financial officer in 1999. "I thought the finance side was more exciting than the law." 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


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