If life can seem to be a choice between doing good and doing well financially, Arthur Blank has an easy response: Why can’t it be both?
Philanthropist, civic leader and co-founder of The Home Depot, Blank said success comes to those who find work in a sincere industry that shares their values.
“If you’re involved in something very meaningful to you, you’re going to be financially successful at the same time,” Blank told students gathered in the UGA Chapel for his Terry Leadership Speaker Series lecture on Feb. 16. “If you chase the dollars first, you’re going to end up in an industry or a company that doesn’t reflect your own values, and you won’t have the kind of success that you want.”
Blank’s values-driven vein of business leadership has been held up as an example since he co-founded The Home Depot in Atlanta in 1978 with his friend Bernie Marcus. As the pair grew the company across the nation, their focus was on maintaining a culture of service — to their customers, their store associates and the community.
That people-first mantra has served Blank well as a guiding principle throughout his career. He brought it with him when he left The Home Depot and started a network of owning sports and hospitality businesses — including the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer and PGA TOUR Superstores — as well as several guest ranches in the western United States.
Blank credits his drive to treat his employees well and work for a better community to his mother. She never waited to “take the temperature of the room” before speaking against inequality or injustice. Treating people well was an expectation.
“‘You only pass through once; make a difference,’ ” said Blank, sharing one of his mother’s favorite sayings. “I constantly heard that as a young man. Like I said, we didn’t have much, but I saw her use whatever spare time she had to engage with the community and make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Having core values to help guide his companies has maintained their identity and culture, which in turn has turned into success, he explained. Blank shared a vision and a roadmap for values-based business in Good Company, a national bestseller released in 2020.
“Our framework isn’t about how to maximize revenue or profit,” Blank said. “It’s about how do we take care of the people that we serve — our customers or our guests and our associates.
“It’s not complicated, but it means you have to (follow your principles) with intensity. You have to do it with purpose, and you can’t compromise. And, you have to stay those courses. If you do the right things for the right reasons, then you will be rewarded appropriately financially.”
The care he shares with his management team for associates in the Arthur Blank Family of Businesses is key to the success of each enterprise. That’s what servant leadership is about, he said.
It’s why he’s not afraid to plunge a clogged toilet at his guest ranch or why he walks down to the sidelines in the fourth quarter of every Falcons game.
“I go down there because I want the players to know that I’m with them win or lose, whatever the end may be,” Blank said. “It’s a message to them that I’m there with them side-by-side. That’s how we run all the businesses, and it’s true for every single person that helps run our businesses. We always shoulder-to-shoulder with our associates, always.”
You can’t build a culture of service without being an example of service, and it’s something you have to keep working on, he said.
“There is no finish line,” he said. “It’s the story of life and the journey that we’re all on. We’re all a work in progress, and we all spend time trying to figure out how to get up every day and have a life that has more meaning both personally and professionally. We all do that throughout our lives”