The Rotary Club of Morgan County hosted the former CEO of Home Depot, Frank Blake, at Tuesday’s meeting. Blake shared the lesson he learned while leading one of the most popular chain retail stores in the world.
Blake delivered a speech at the Chophouse in Madison about his experience of being thrown into leading a multibillion-dollar retail company with zero experience in the profession.
Blake, who spent the first part of his career as a lawyer in Washington D.C. and New York, represented government agencies and businesses before serving as Home Depot’s CEO and Chairman for eight years, shared what he learned while running a company with 2200 stores and 425,000 employees across America, Canada, and Mexico. Home Depot coincidentally started out of Atlanta.
Before becoming a CEO, Blake provided legal services as a law clerk to Judge Wilfred Feinberg and then to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Blake also served as general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and deputy counsel to Vice President George H. W. Bush. Blake’s legal career led him to General Electric where he over saw acquisitions and mergers for the company. He also served as a non-executive chairman for Delta Airlines. That’s why when he was asked to become the next CEO of Home Depot he was both shocked and hesitant to take on the position.
“I had never lead anything,” said Blake. “I made deals, but I had never lead a company.”
According to Blake, he learned how to lead by practice over his eight-year-tenor at Home Depot. He believes the number one quality of a strong business leader is “generosity.”
“At first that didn’t make sense to me,” remembered Blake. “But you have to be fueled by the success of those around you and if you are fueled by the success of those around you that will give you the energy to succeed. It is profoundly true.”
Blake praised Home Depot’s “inverted pyramid” business model with the customers at the top and the CEO at the bottom.
“I deeply believe this is one of the most profound business concepts that exists,” said Blake. “It’s servant-leadership.”
Blake noted that the best way to motivate employees and communicate a message is through recognition and celebration. He noted he would send hand-written letters weekly to exemplary employees.
“You set the pattern of what you want your organization to be by what you celebrate,” said Blake.