Did you know that Clarence Otis Jr., the CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., one of the largest restaurant chains, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, is an African-American man? Darden Restaurants Inc. is one of the largest casual dining operators in the nation. The firm operates nearly 1,400 company-owned restaurants coast to coast, serving 300 million meals annually. Darden employs 150,000 workers and has annual revenues of $6 billion.
Mr. Otis was born in Vicksburg , Mississippi . His family and he moved to Los Angeles when he was 6 years old. His father was a high school dropout who worked as a janitor. The family lived in Watts at the time of the 1965 riots. As a teenager they moved to Compton.
In the post-Watts period, Mr. Otis recalls being stopped and questioned by police several times a year because of the color of his skin. A high school guidance counselor recommended him for a scholarship at Williams College, the highly selective liberal arts institution in Massachusetts. Otis graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Williams and went on to earn a law degree at Stanford. Otis landed on Wall Street as a merger and acquisitions attorney for J.P. Morgan Securities. He joined Darden Restaurants in 1995 as corporate treasurer. Clarence Otis Jr. became CEO in 2004.