How Arthur Blank drove The Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons to paydirt

And when senior leaders effectively communicate with those nontitled people, businesses grow stronger. After speaking with fans, Blank identified ticket prices and parking as prime concerns. So he lowered ticket prices on 30 percent of the Georgia Dome’s seats and secured parking — including space to tailgate — for season-ticket-holders. As a result, 30,000 empty seats were transformed into a waiting list 60,000 deep for season tickets.

Forbes estimates the team’s 2006 revenue at $170 million, up from $120 million in 2002.

“It’s very dangerous in any business for a minute when you put yourself above the customer or above the fan or above your associate,” Blank says. “There’s an awful lot of bright folks out there, and they can lead you down the yellow brick road if you’re willing to follow, but you have to be willing to follow.”

Look to the next level

While at The Home Depot, Blank often brought in outside people to meetings, which sparked conversation afterward.

“That first meeting was weird,” the visitor would say to Blank.

“Why was it weird?” he’d ask.

“It sounded like the company was really in trouble. You guys were talking about all the things you were doing wrong.”

Despite The Home Depot’s successful track record, Blank always led with a sense of urgency, continuously pushing forward.

“The best executives that I’ve ever worked with have always had a lot of confidence and a lot of security, but a lot of insecurity at the same time,” Blank says. “They’re always concerned with what happens if the market changes. … They spend time thinking about all the what-ifs as opposed to just what’s happening today.”

Leaders constantly have to assess if their team also thinks that way and can move to the next level. In the early 1980s, Blank had lunch with Charles Lazarus, who was running Toys “R” Us.

“Give me a lesson,” Blank asked Lazarus. “Tell me what we’re going to have to do.”

“I have to look at my company as we grow every year … and challenge myself,” Lazarus said. “Can the people you have around you take you to the next billion? Those are going to be the most difficult decisions you’ll have to make.”

Blank has found truth in that as he’s often concluded that people who worked their tails off and got down in the trenches simply didn’t have the skills to move the business to the next level.

“You constantly are pruning the tree around your senior management, making sure the folks that are still part of the tree are thinking in a similar way,” Blank says. “You constantly ask every year, ‘The people that have gotten me to this level, can they get me to the next level, or are there issues I need to deal with?’”

Blank says that when issues arise, look for a niche within the company where that person would succeed at the next level. If that person isn’t willing to change, then he or she may need to find opportunities elsewhere.

“That’s your last resort, not your first resort,” Blank says. “You have a big investment in that person. They work their tail off and, typically, they’ve produced at a very high level.”