Arthur Blank, co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, offers a moving manifesto about bringing and sustaining joy in your organization and its community.
In this Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller, Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank shares, in detail, how his core values anchor his business practices. Blank – who built a stadium, created a new professional soccer team and purchased the Atlanta Falcons NFL franchise, among other ventures – explains that business success emerges from treating your employees and consumers well, giving back to your community, and challenging the status quo. When you prioritize creating joy for people, he believes you reap extraordinary rewards – as do your employees, colleagues and shareholders. Blank offers these values as his corporate North Star.
As a company grows, it’s the solidity of those values that allows for innovation and agility in every other aspect.Arthur Blank
Blank’s book scored myriad positive reviews from CEOs, authors and leaders such as Deepak Chopra, civil rights activist Andrew Young and perhaps incongruously, former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. In a coronation of the virtues of Blank’s approach, former President Jimmy Carter, America’s one-man exemplar of virtue, wrote the introduction to his book.
Blank maintains that the values he learned decades ago still apply today. He believes sound businesses embrace their community. When a company or organization views itself as a community that includes all its stakeholders, he emphasizes, everything it does contains an element of hospitality.
Blank expounds on the concept of conscious capitalism, which means businesses have a greater mission than the bottom line. Companies are responsible to their employees, towns, shareholders and the sustainability of the planet.
Values are the bones of a good company – the one thing that doesn’t fundamentally change.Arthur Blank
Blank’s corporate history and business ventures exemplify the ethos of making a profit while keeping mission foremost. He takes a “circles of impact” approach to his sports, retail, recreational and entertainment businesses. The circle’s core is a company’s staff and customers, surrounded by the local community and, then, each business’s industry. The boundaries between the circles are intentionally porous. Community members become staffers, and staff members volunteer in the community. When a business succeeds, competitors notice and emulate its actions, including its community service.
At The Home Depot, Blank, his co-founder Bernie Marcus and their colleagues encouraged staff members to act as representatives of their corporate culture. The store trained employees to respect and honor people, to listen, welcome diversity, set an example of leadership, support new ideas, share useful skills, and encourage their colleagues and their organization to work toward improving society.
Blank refers to employees as “associates” because he feels that term shows a “horizontal relationship,” not a top-down one. Tellingly, his organizational charts show every customer-facing associate on the top and every executive on the bottom.
“Put People First”
Blank insists that businesses should put their people foremost. After he purchased the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, he sat in the rear of the team plane with the Falcons’ players and asked what they needed from him. The answer: a stadium filled with fans. That required affordable tickets, so Blank upended the usual NFL process and sold season tickets for $100 – about $10 a game. Within hours, fans bought out every game. Local stations finally could televise the matches – which were blocked from TV coverage as long as the stadium was empty. Now, the cameras showed the stadium full of Falcon fans from all economic levels of Atlanta; this outpouring of community involvement energized more fans, the team and its players.
Every detail, from the…cup-holder to the…retractable roof was intended as a thank-you to our fans.Arthur Blank
Blank built his stadium in an urban Black neighborhood of Atlanta. Minority-owned businesses received more than 31% of the contracts to supply the stadium, which also meets the US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum criteria.
People in the community told Blank they wanted jobs, better schools and safe spaces. He used his Put People First mantra to guide the team’s corporate decision-makers to support the people of the neighborhood. For instance, Blank guided the creation of The Home Depot Backyard: an 11-acre open area for parking and tailgating on game days that provides neighborhood green space for the community every other day.
Blank’s companies all run local programs, funded, in part, by staff giving. Each unit focuses on a meaningful local goal. For example, one group works to reduce obesity among Georgia’s children. Even in philanthropic activities, Blank warns, companies must focus on their customers and the people who benefit from their services – not only on nonprofits the corporation may support.
If giving back can become part of what people do every day when they go to work, we can truly make progress.Arthur Blank
The Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation dug into the problem of neighborhood food desserts and set out to help underserved neighborhoods gain access to fresh food. When Foundation representatives talked to local residents, they learned many people didn’t know how to cook fresh produce, didn’t feel comfortable in certain stores and wanted to grow their own vegetables. So, the Foundation introduced pop-up markets, small community stores, and gardening and cooking classes.
If you want to know how to make a real difference, Blank asserts, listen to the people you’re trying to serve.
For Blank, innovation means continually evaluating how a company does business. He allows employees to run with new ideas; how far they can go depends on the person and situation. This approach builds trust and creates a working environment that fosters mentoring and continual learning.
Football fans drink traditional brands like Bud Light, Heineken or Coors. Soccer fans prefer to start with craft beers and microbrews. So we set up concession stands in such a way that we could pour each fanbase its beverage of choice throughout a game.Arthur Blank
Blank hopes his lasting gift will be creating joy for people, achieved by honoring, adhering to and living his core values.
Though he avoids corporate-speak, Blank still writes like a CEO, but a humane one. Successful CEOs’ memoirs either broadcast from the mountaintop or sit next to you in a bar and put one arm around your shoulder. Blank’s does the latter and proves all the more engaging for it. His examples of living his values prove he is no hypocrite, and his sound, values-based advice applies to tiny family businesses and massive corporate megaliths alike.
If you establish…a culture of doing good, you will…do well, for yourself and for the larger community. Arthur Blank
Blank co-authored Built from Scratch with Bernie Marcus and Bob Andelman. Other solid leadership books by CEOs include Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity through Business by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years a CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger and Joel Lovell.