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Francis (Frank) Blake needed more than a hammer and a few
nails when he got the top job at Home Depot. Blake took over as
chairman and CEO of the U.S.s fourth-largest retailer in
January 2007, just as the financial crisis was starting to
fester. In a surprise appointment the executive vice president
replaced Robert Nardelli, who had overseen the Big Orange
Boxs dramatic growth during the U.S. housing boom.
Nardellis top-down management style clashed with the
warmer Home Depot culture instilled by founders Arthur Blank
and Bernard Marcus.
Self-effacing and candid, the 62-year-old Blake is the
opposite of his predecessor and former General Electric Co.
colleague. But he still had to confront some ugly economics.
Seeing that the home improvement chain itself needed major
repairs, he laid off 11,000 staff, sold HD Supply in 2007 and
closed the Expo Design Center division in 2009.
Blake rebuilt Atlanta-based Home Depots supply chain
and rethought its retail strategy. To this day he still taps
Blank and Marcus for advice on how to improve customer service
and stay true to the original values of the company they
launched in 1978.
Today things are turning around for Home Depot, which had
sales of $68 billion and earnings from continuing
operations of $3.3 billion in 2010. Thanks to Blakes
renovations, its performed well during this years
weak housing and job market. Raymond James Financial upgraded
Home Depot shares to a strong buy from market perform after a
solid second quarter; net earnings were $1.4 billion, or
$0.86 per share, versus $1.2 billion, or $0.72 per share,
during the same period last year. Diluted earnings per share
grew 19.4 percent over 2010.
To rally his 321,000 troops at the more than 2,200 Home
Depot stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and China, Blake
relies on down-home courtesy. Hes proud of his tradition
of hand-writing thank-you cards to employees on Sundays.
His inspiration for this gesture: thenVice President
George H. W. Bush, for whom the onetime lawyer served as deputy
general counsel from 1981 to 1983. Hed spend an
hour every morning writing notes to people, recalls
Boston native Blake, who has a JD from Columbia Law School.
As a staff member, I remember the feeling of getting a
note from the vice president of the United States saying
nice job on something. That makes a