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Joe R. Lee

AKA Joseph R. Lee

Born: c. 1941
Birthplace: Blackshear, GA

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business
Party Affiliation: Republican

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Red Lobster and Olive Garden

Military service: US Air Force

Ignoring for the moment any culinary criticisms, Joe R. Lee is the epitome of the American success story. He was raised on a Georgia farm, worked at restaurants to earn his college tuition, and in 1968 he was hired as a minimum wage worker at a new restaurant called Red Lobster in Lakeland, Florida, owned by William Darden. The two men became friends, and Lee soon became the restaurant's manager and even purchased a small share in the business. By 1970 there were three Red Lobster restaurants with two more under construction, and Darden and Lee sold the budding chain to General Mills. Both men remained with the company, Darden rising to Vice President of General Mills before retiring in 1984, while Lee oversaw rapid expansion of the Red Lobster chain and the introduction of a second successful chain, Olive Garden, in 1982. In 1995 General Mills spun off its restaurant division as a separate company with Lee as President, and at his suggestion the business was named Darden Restaurants to honor his mentor, who had died two years earlier. Lee retired in 2005.

Wife: Dale Lee (m., two children)

    University: Air Force Academy
    University: Valdosta State College

    Darden Restaurants President (1994-2005)
    General Mills Vice Chairman and CFO (1992-2005)
    General Mills EVP Finance (1991-92)
    Olive Garden Founder (1982)
    General Mills President, General Mills Restaurants (1979-95)
    General Mills VP (1976-2005)
    Red Lobster President (1972-76)
    Red Lobster VP (1969-72)
    Red Lobster Manager (1967-68)
    Member of the Board of General Mills (1984-2005)
    Member of the Board of Darden Restaurants (as Chairman, 1995-2005)
    Member of the Board of Tupperware Brands (1992-2005)
    Black America's PAC
    Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama
    National Restaurant Association


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