The theme that runs through all of Arthur Blank’s ventures, from Home Depot to The Atlanta Falcons, is a commitment to a customer-first, principled culture.
That was the message Blank delivered to a packed house March 27 at a Terry Leadership Speakers Series event in the Chapel.
“The best advice I can give you or anybody is don’t focus on your résumé, focus on your eulogy,” Blank said. “As you build your career and your life, think about what you want people to say about you when you’re not here. If you live that way throughout your life, in your career and personally, you’re going to make a lot good choices in terms of your values and your principles. You’re all probably going to be very successful financially, I just recommend that you don’t compromise your values, your integrity and your principles along the way.”
Blank said that he and partner Bernie Marcus started The Home Depot in 1979 in Atlanta with twice the space of any other home improvement store while charging 25 percent less. Despite the low prices, the first nine months went terribly. The company was losing money, but the leadership team adhered to their values, listened to their customers and built loyalty, which later translated into profit.
"The best advice I can give you or anybody is don’t focus on your résumé, focus on your eulogy."
“After I retired, I was playing golf at Augusta and my counterpart at Lowe’s, Bob Tillman, was there. We talked and he said, ‘You know, we used to visit about 100 of your stores a year. Stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Chile, Argentina, wherever you had stores. And every time we did, we could not figure out why your sales were twice ours. We copied everything you did. We copied everything we could copy. But we could never copy that unique level of customer service you had in your stores.’ And to me that was the proof in the pudding of our work and our commitment to the culture.
“When we looked at promoting people, the first criteria had to be ‘Do they understand the culture? Do they walk the talk?’ If they got that, they could move up the ladder. I think that every one of our associates understands our culture. We call it ‘Blood Orange’.”
Blank and Marcus reinforced that culture from the top down. Blank would spend three hours walking through Home Depot stores during site visits, talking with not only the managers and associates, but also stopping to chat with customers and help them with their needs.
“I looked for opportunities every day to reinforce our values and our culture,” he said. “People pay a lot of attention to what happens at the top, and when they see a founder taking time out and helping customers, they think ‘Well, I ought to do that too.’”
Blank also talked about the Falcons’ recent hire of new head coach, Dan Quinn.
“I let the football guys worry about the Xs and Os, and I, again, focus on the culture,” Blank said. “And Dan understands our culture, our values, our vision for a new stadium, and the unique support of our fan base. He got all that. That’s very important to me.”
In addition to The Home Depot and the Falcons, Blank's business portfolio also includes PGA TOUR Superstore, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana and AMB Group.
Blank also serves on the board of trustees of The Carter Center, The Cooper Institute and The First Tee.
The Terry Leadership Speaker Series, presented by the Institute for Leadership Advancement, brings well-known leaders from a variety of organizations to the Terry College of Business and the University of Georgia. In these student-oriented forums, leaders are asked to discuss their unique leadership styles and experiences.