The Power List 2017: Gene Lee

January 24, 2017

Gene Lee, who began his career as a busboy and now serves as CEO of the nation’s largest casual-dining company, knows successful restaurant culture from the bottom to the top.

His mastery of nurturing both people and profits was instrumental in Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurant Inc.’s promotion of Lee to CEO in February 2015.

Lee, who joined Darden in a 2007 acquisition and later headed the company’s Specialty Restaurant Group, had “done a terrific job improving the energy and attitude inside Darden” with his “thoughtful, focused, hands-on leadership,” said Jeffrey Smith, then-chairman of Darden.

Lee has been honored frequently for