Joseph E. Antonini

Class of 1993

  • Chairman J.E.A. Enterprises

You have to know where you want to go and what you want to do. Then you have to have a strategy to get there. And you have to stay focused.

Born in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1941, Joe Antonini was the oldest of five children. His father worked in construction and later went into the footwear business. Antonini credits his parents for his strong work ethic and sense of integrity. At an early age, Antonini had a Sunday paper route, and held summer jobs landscaping and selling concessions in Atlantic City to the convention crowds.

Antonini took saxophone lessons when he was eight. At the age of 15, he formed a rock-and-roll band, The Bonnevilles, and used the group's earnings to put himself through college at West Virginia University. Upon graduating with a degree in business and management, Antonini applied for jobs with some of the area's largest department stores. He also sought advice from the manager of the store where he'd worked part time during school. His manager suggested going into the mass merchandising discount business, which was beginning to expand rapidly.

Antonini joined S. S. Kresge in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Six months later, he entered military service, but he returned to the company upon his release. From a Kresge department store in Bayshore, New York, Antonini began his climb to the top of the company with promotions about every two years. In 1986, he was named president and COO of Kmart Corporation; a year later, the retailer made him chairman and CEO. After retiring from Kmart in 1995, Antonini formed JEA Enterprises, a business investment firm.

Antonini has long been committed to helping his community. He has helped raise funds for the Michigan Cancer Foundation, Detroit Institute of Arts, Boys and Girls Club of Michigan, Leukemia Society of America, United Way, and Channel 56 (Detroit's public television affiliate). In 1992, Boys' Town of Italy in New York presented him with its "Man of the Year" award.

Throughout his successful business career, Antonini has developed what he calls his creed for success. Among his tips: "Be strong so that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything. Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Give everyone a smile. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others. Be too big for worry and too noble for anger."