Great article about former Williams trustee (and CEO of Darden Restaurants) Clarence Otis ’77.

Otis was an unlikely choice in the eyes of some Wall Street observers to replace the retiring patriarch, considering his financial, rather than operational, background.

But Darden’s former chief financial officer did serve a two-year stint starting in 2002 at the helm of the company’s Smokey Bones barbecue unit, which doubled in size under his direction.

He is a decided change of pace for the company and its 141,000 employees. During a recent interview, Otis balked at discussing himself or his past, saying he didn’t want the spotlight during this important time of change at Darden.

I can’t think of an Eph who has more people working for him than Otis does. He is one of only three Ephs in charge of a S&P 500 company. The other two are Mayo Shattuck ’76 of Constellation Energy and Henry Silverman ’61 of Cendant.

Fans of the web of Eph influence will note that Otis serves on the board of St. Paul Travelers, along with trustee Robert Lipp ’60 and Dean Nancy Roseman. Lipp, chair of the executive committe of the board of trustees (i.e., lead trustee in charge) is almost certainly the person who recruited Otis (and Roseman) to the board.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Indeed, part of Lipp’s job as chairman of Travelers is to find smart, hard-working folks like Otis and Roseman to recruit to the board of directors. But critics of, say, George W. Bush’s business career should note that personal relationships play a role for everyone.

Indeed, one of the quips back in the day was that the main thing that we learned at Williams was how to make conversation aroun the keg. There was more than a little truth to that, of course. But what I didn’t realize till many years later is that being able to make conversation around the keg is a critically important skill in the business world.

Although I have never met Otis (or Lipp, Silverman, Shattuck, et al), I feel certain that he is a charming, engaging, personable fellow. It is almost impossible to climb to the top of a large company without these sorts of people skills, as well as many other talents.

So, current Ephs should be sure to spend a lot of time standing around the keg and making conversation this Winter Study. Your future success in the business world depends on it!

The whole article is a great read, but, for me, the best part is:

Family and friends describe Otis as intelligent, humble and driven to succeed.

His father, Clarence Otis Sr., 72, remembers the day he picked up the phone to hear the news of his son’s promotion at Darden: “I finally made it to the top, dad,” his son told him.

Otis is not the only Eph who hopes to impress his father some day.

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