Home Depot CEO Stresses Customer Service and Employee Investments

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Frank Blake, chairman and CEO of Home Depot, believes in putting customers and employees first.

“Take care of your customers. Take care of your associates. Everything else will take care of itself,” he said.

That was the theme of Blake’s presentation Thursday at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business for the 2012 Charles G. Thalhimer Family Executive-in-Residence program.

Joined by almost 20 Home Depot associates, including his son, Frank Blake, Jr., district manager and adjunct professor in the School of Business’ Executive M.B.A. Program, Blake shared the keys to building a workplace culture like the one at Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer.

The Home Depot culture is sometimes affectionately referred to as “orange-blooded” - inspired by the familiar orange apron all store associates wear - which is an integral part of the foundation of the company’s success, a culture the company believes to be apparent in all 300,000 employees.

The top executive of Home Depot since 2007, Blake said he has a “true belief that you have to start as a values-based company,” which is why the company operates by a set of eight specific values.

Blake took the audience of students, faculty, alumni and local business professionals through the Home Depot’s strategic plan, including how the company got where it is now, and detailed their new ideas to move forward.

He raised some questions that any company needs to consider to become successful. What are you passionate about? What are you going to be the best in the world at? What drives your economic engine?

Through the years, adding more stores helped the Home Depot increase its revenue, but after the economic downturn the company had to figure out a new way to build the business without building more stores.

“Yesterday’s answers aren’t going to solve tomorrow’s problems,” Blake said. “You have to be creative.”  

The company continued to invest during the crashing economy, particularly in employees. Its business model is an inverted pyramid, with customers first, then front-line employees, followed by field support and the corporate office, with the CEO at the bottom.

“You walk into our business every day, and judge how we’re doing. You see our business straight on,” Blake said.

Home Depot currently has 2,250 stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, each of which sells between 35,000 and 40,000 individual items. The store is the number one home improvement store in both Canada and Mexico.

Following his presentation, Blake had lunch with a dozen students from levels and concentrations across the School of Business, answering their questions and providing additional insight. He later visited two classes.

Blake has earned accolades for leading the company through a tough market, building the corporate culture and delivering results to shareholders. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he served as vice chairman of the board of directors and executive vice president. He joined Home Depot in 2002 as executive vice president of business development and corporate operations.

Blake previously served as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and prior to that, he worked in a variety of executive roles at General Electric. His public sector experience also includes having served as general counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), deputy counsel to Vice President George Bush and law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Charles G. Thalhimer Family Executive-in-Residence program, established in 1984, is the premier external leadership program at the School of Business and is designed to bring nationally and internationally prominent business leaders to the VCU campus for interaction with students, faculty, students, alumni, community leaders and the public.