Beads of sweat roll down a young runner’s forehead, while his mind wills his aching body forward, stride after stride, as he continues on his grueling run. Some miles prove easier than others, but even during those less strenuous ones, he pushes himself to perform better than he previously has and prepares himself for the more difficult, uphill miles he knows lurk around the bend.
While his fatigued body wants to collapse as the miles slowly go by, he cannot stop — there’s work to do, and athletes are always looking to improve.
This same mentality has driven Arthur Blank’s career and created his success as co-founder of The Home Depot (he retired from the home improvement retailer in 2001) and now as owner and CEO of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons. Just as athletes have regimens of exercises they practice to improve and succeed, so does Blank. He adheres to a handful of simple philosophies that create and sustain success when continuously practiced. “The whole notion that there is no finish line, which is a life philosophy of mine, reflects in the way you run a business, as well,” Blank says. “The day you think you kind of got it all figured out in any business is the day you’re going to get in trouble.”
Hire the best
When the Home Depot’s sales approached the $1 billion mark, Blank and his partner had lunch with a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, who told them that they’d need to change strategies when the company reached that magical milestone.
That didn’t sit well with Blank, who decided that if they continued hiring and promoting people who “bled orange” and bought into the culture, then the company could, indeed, sustain itself. “We didn’t let people get in the game, as we grew the company, that were just good at getting things done as opposed to good at living who we are,” he says.
Instead of hiring many hourly workers at lower wages, Blank went after the best and paid them more because their knowledge and skills would benefit the customers. But he also held them accountable for creating sales and customer relationships. “They are reflected on the operating statement as a payroll expense, but I’ve always viewed them more as an investment,” Blank says. “We’ve always had the mentality that if we invested in the very best people, not only would they produce the best re-sults for us in the near term but would have capacity for growth and decision-making as any of the businesses have grown.”
When Blank bought the Falcons in 2002, the Georgia Dome, the team’s home stadium, sat about 40 percent empty on game days, and empty seats don’t help propel athletes to victory or generate revenue. To find a way to fill them, he talked to people who didn’t attend the games. He knew he’d hear complaints, but it was the only way to pinpoint the issues and find ways to fix them. “A lot of leaders, they listen, but they don’t really want to hear the results to the answers and when the answers come, they find a way to reinterpret them based on their original perspective of what they think the answers should be,” Blank says. “They might give you their honest opinion of what they think you’ve got to do to improve your business, but then you put it through your own filter and look at it through your own rose-colored glasses, and you choose not to see it that way. You say, ‘That’s not really what they meant. They meant some other things,’ and you just believe what you want to believe.”
Blank says there are bright people throughout an organization, and leaders need to hear them out, as well.
“You don’t have to be a genius to do it — you have to be bright,” Blank says. “Anybody can be bright. Anybody can listen and understand that there are lot of great ideas out there. … There are a lot of folk out there that don’t have titles that have an awful lot of good ideas.”