Joe R. Lee
Chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants, Inc
Joe R. Lee is Chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants, Inc. He was named to the company's top spot on May 29, 1995, when General Mills, Inc. spun off its restaurant division. Prior to that he was President and CEO of General Mills Restaurants, Inc.
Mr. Lee began his career with the company in 1967 as a member of Red Lobster's founding team, along with the man who would become the company's namesake, Bill Darden. He was manager of the first Red Lobster in Lakeland, FL, and when General Mills bought the fledging seafood chain in 1970, he took on increasing responsibilities and was named the chain's 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, where he was responsible for major national expansions of both Red Lobster and Olive Garden. In 1984, he was elected to the General Mills board of directors.
Lee became General Mills, Inc. Executive Vice President of Finance in April 1991, and Chief Financial Officer a year later. He was elected a Vice Chairman of General Mills in 1992.
Mr. Lee has served as an officer or director of many businesses, including serving on the Tupperware, Inc. board of directors, and for 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 a Doctor of Business Administration in Foodservice Management Honors Causa degree, and he has also received honorary Doctor of Laws degree from St. Leo College and Doctor of Letters from the University of Central Florida.
Orlando residents, Mr. Lee and his wife, Dale have two children and two grandchildren. His hobbies include reading, cooking and experimenting with food.