Hospitality Hall of Honor
Joe R. Lee
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|Former Chairman & CEO of Darden Restaurants, Inc.|
|Joe R. Lee is former chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants, Inc. He was named to the company's top spot on May 29, 1995, when Darden Restaurants split from General Mills Restaurants, Inc. Prior to that, Lee was president and CEO of General Mills Restaurants.|
Lee began his career with the company in 1967 as a member of Red Lobster's founding team along with Bill Darden, who would eventually found Darden Restaurants. Lee was manager of the first Red Lobster in Lakeland, Florida, and when General Mills bought the fledging seafood chain in 1970, he took on increasing responsibility. He was named president and CEO in 1972.
In 1976, Lee was elected vice president of General Mills, and in 1979 he was elected president of the Minneapolis company's restaurant operations, General Mills Restaurants, was and was responsible for major national expansions of both Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants. In 1984, he was elected to the General Mills board of directors.
He became General Mills' executive vice president of finance in April 1991, and chief financial officer a year later. He was elected vice chairman in 1992.
Lee served as chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants until 2004. He retired from the company's board of directors in 2005.
Lee has served on the boards of many businesses, including serving on the Tupperware, Inc. board, as well as serving on the boards of numerous industries, civic and charitable organizations. He is a past president of the National Restaurant Association and a 1998 Gold Plate Award recipient—the industry's highest honor—in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the foodservice industry.
In 1994, Johnson and Wales University presented him with an honorary doctor of business administration in foodservice management, and he has also received honorary doctor of laws degree from St. Leo College and doctor of letters from the University of Central Florida.
Lee and his wife, Dale, have two children and two grandchildren. His hobbies include reading, cooking and experimenting with food.