Born: 1927, Atlanta
Education: Bachelor of science degree, commerce, University of North Carolina
First job: I was 12 years old working in a grocery store.
What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
Success depends on your people skills, not how much accounting you know or how much business law you know. It’s your people skills, what you can get other people to do toward building an organization.
Then you have to set a philosophy or culture. Our culture is straight honesty. We say we’re going to do the right thing whether we’re legally responsible to do it or not.
We’re going to be honest with the customers. We’re going to be honest with our employees. We have no hidden agendas.
Developing a culture is a thing you must do. You’re going to have a reputation whether you want it or not, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. You want to make sure it’s one of honesty and fairness.
What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
Financing, no question. I went to college on a GI bill. My mother worked at three jobs to put my brother and I through college particularly my brother because he (went to school) before the GI Bill. She gave unconditional love to us.
I went into this business with no money. If I had known the price that I’d have to pay, I wouldn’t have ever done it. Ignorance is bliss. It was a new idea back then. We were really the pioneer in this business.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I read books all the time about successful businesses, like Jack Welch’s and the boys that developed Home Depot all the businesspeople that I know or have met.
The Home Depot co-founders, Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, they took a concept and just ran with it. If you really break it down, what did they do that made them so successful? They didn’t invent anything. They did not offer any product that was not available somewhere else.
They opened a big building and said, ‘This is our warehouse, our showroom. Everything is right here. You come and get it.’ They made it very easy to buy the products we all need with a different concept.