The profits, Blank said, would then come naturally.
“People commit an awful lot of time to their work and those relationships and to making a difference, etc., so we always wanted to create an environment where people felt it wasn’t just about the bottom line … We want to be driven by the right behavior so that all of our associates feel like this company, this organization I’m connected to, is worthy of my life in terms of my commitment,” said Blank, who co-founded Vinings-based Home Depot with his partner, Bernie Marcus, in 1979.
Blank said Home Depot saw increases every year for the 23 years he was with the company, and that when he had retired in 2001, the company had grown at a rate of 45 percent a year in terms of sales, 49 percent a year in terms of earnings and 45 percent a year in terms of stock.
“The fact that we had that kind of financial success and the fact that we were able to create that kind of give-back and community involvement and connection with our associates and folks who were in situations that had greater needs for me was very positive. … And we knew if we did the right things to support those kinds of values, at the end of the day, we were going to produce the kind of financial results that we did, which was great for our shareholders, great for our associates and great for our investors and great for our communities that we served in terms of giving back in a variety of ways,” Blank said.
Tuesday’s luncheon at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre was unique in that guests and speakers were all seated on top of the centre’s stage, under the lights and between the curtains. Cobb Chamber Chairman Rob Garcia led a “fireside chat-style” interview with Blank in the front.
Blank is also well known for being the highly visible and hands-on owner of the Atlanta Falcons and said that it is often unreported that his players spend more than 3,000 hours a year giving back to the community. Blank said he had to resort back to his business principles when dealing with the controversial exit of short-lived Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino in 2007.
“Coach Petrino has been a very successful college coach, and is again a successful college coach, but just wasn’t ready to coach at the NFL level for a variety of reasons. But we went through that experience, and I kind of let our football folks drive that decision and there wasn’t enough focus on character and ethics and behavior and trust and those things,” Blank said, adding that Marcus sent him an email during the process of replacing Petrino that reminded him to focus on the principles that built their company.
Blank expressed great pleasure with current coach Mike Smith, whom he often referred to as “Smitty,” and said the Falcons had the “best leadership group in the National Football League.”
Marcus said the recent deal agreed to by the NFL players union and the league owners was a “sustainable deal” and called the decade-long agreement “10 years of labor peace.”
In addition to Home Depot and the Falcons, Blank also has his hands in the Atlanta-based PGA Tour Superstores, Atlanta Falcons Physical Therapy Centers, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, which he said is the most successful dude ranch in the West.
Joel Siegel, an associate judge for the city of Kennesaw and wife of retired Kennesaw State University President Betty Siegel, said he liked that Blank put an emphasis on character, integrity, trust and value in the work place.
“Those are the characteristics that drive businesses, lives, the community and the nation, and we need to return to that. (Blank’s speech) was very timely,” Siegel said.
“I really was interested in his focus on behaviors and the way you treat people instead of focusing on the next quarter’s analyses,” said Dan Styf, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president of regional and marketing strategy for Georgia. “His message was that if you can execute on those values and solve customer’s problems, everyone can win. He has so much experience, and it was motivating to hear the perspective of someone who is obviously a very successful businessman.”
The next Chairman’s Club event will be on Sept. 28 at the Georgian Club, where the featured speaker will be Georgia Power Company President and CEO Paul Bowers.
Follow Katy Ruth Camp on Twitter at twitter.com/KatyRuthC.