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Mississippi College

AutoZone Leader Headlines Faith and Business Ethics Week at MC

February 22, 2013

More than 70,000 AutoZone employees always put the customer first.

It’s a cornerstone of the culture at the Memphis-based company at its 4,700 stores in the United States and 25 others in Mexico.

But the AutoZone CEO Bill Rhodes isn’t just concerned about the bottom line. The keynote speaker at Mississippi College’s Faith & Business Week luncheon on Thursday, he said his faith, family, and community come ahead of his career.

Moments before speaking to hundreds of MC students, faculty and business people, the Tennessee native began the program with prayer.

After 18 years of moving up the ladder with the automobile parts and supplies giant, Rhodes is a hard-working Christian who lives his faith on and off the job. “Whatever you do, you should do it for God’s glory,” he told his audience at Anderson Hall. “Put the emphasis on Him.”

It’s God who “made you the person you are,” Rhodes said. “Be the best you can be.”

Typically working twelve hours a day, his activities take him to stores across America and to business enterprises around the globe. He’s always wearing the standard black AutoZone uniform when visiting stores. If things get busy, Rhodes will get behind the counter and sell auto parts to customers.

While he loves to talk about the accomplishments of AutoZoners and the rapid rise of the company, he also gets excited when talking about the impact of God on his life and that of his co-workers.

Rhodes was named president and CEO of AutoZone in March 2005, and chairman in June 2007. A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin with an accounting degree, he also earned an MBA at the University of Memphis.

AutoZone was founded in 1979 as Auto Shack in Forrest City, Arkansas and sales the first day amounted to just $300. Growing to 300 stores by 1988, the company keeps expanding – at the rate of about 200 new stores per year. AutoZone is now located in 49 states.

The CEO of the company at age 39, Rhodes sees to it that AutoZone reaches out to the community. It’s one of the big supporters of the St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. It helps many charitable causes. “We have a responsibility to give back,” he said. “I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.”

Rhodes advises MC students to go to work for companies that “share your values.”

The Faith & Business Ethics Week is sponsored by the MC School of Business and alumnus L.D. “Papa” Jordan, a successful restaurant owner and businessman in Tennessee. His Holiday Ham and Deli restaurants opened their first franchise, Pimento’s Café, at his alma mater in Olde Towne Clinton last fall.

MC students applauded the message by Rhodes. “It was very informative. He does a good job incorporating his faith into his work,” said freshman Julie Robinson, a modern languages and international trade major from Hattiesburg. And members of her family are AutoZone customers. “My Dad always shops at AutoZone.”

Freshman Melissa Robinson of Memphis also gave his talk a thumbs up. “I admired the way a successful businessman can still use faith in his everyday business life. And I liked that he said diversity is important.”

Other speakers included Memphis businessman Kemmons Wilson, Stacy Davidson, managing partner with Dama Fiber, Frank Jemison, CEO of Jemison, Inc. and Trey Jordan, owner and president of the Holiday Deli & Ham Co.

In a question/answer session, panel members were asked what they would like to see changed in corporate America.

Often, Wilson said, “we hear bad things about corporate America. But for every bad guy, there are hopefully 100 good guys out there.”

It’s critical for business people, he said, to get involved in prayer and accountability groups. “If you veer off the road, your buddies will put you back on the road.”

Photo: AutoZone CEO Bill Rhodes delivers keynote address at Mississippi College's Faith & Business Week luncheon February 21.