LOCAL COMMUNITY: LEADING CHANGE
When I left The Home Depot, I never intended to leave Atlanta. In fact, one of my overriding desires was to give back to the city that had launched our company and made it such a success. Whatever new endeavors lay ahead of me, they would be embedded in that community and dedicated to improving it in the best way I knew: by doing good business there.
Every company, large or small, has an opportunity and a responsibility to do good in its own neighborhood. That might mean a small town, a city block, or a rural community, or it might mean a whole city. In the most basic sense, simply setting up shop in a community is a chance to bring jobs, services, and other economic opportunities to the people who live there. A good company thinks about its location not just as something to exploit for profit or cost savings but as a strategic opportunity to serve. When I decided to build our new stadium downtown, just a stone's throw from Atlanta's historic Westside, I did so because I saw a chance to uplift that community as well as to infuse our teams and our sports with the energy of transformation that makes our city great. It wasn't an easy choice, nor was it always a popular one, but it has benefited both our business and that community in countless ways and will for decades to come.
The same can be true at any scale when companies begin to look outside their own walls and fences and find ways to get involved in the neighborhood. It might mean sponsoring and getting involved in community projects; creating job-training programs and recruiting local residents; providing space for community events; spearheading local change efforts; or encouraging other businesses to move to the neighborhood.
INDUSTRY AND SOCIETY: MODELING POTENTIAL
One of my core values is leading by example, and this applies both to people and to companies. A good company can set an example—for others in its industry, and perhaps even beyond, for society as a whole. When a company takes a risk to do the right thing and is rewarded by improvements in revenue and reputation, it can give others the courage to do the same. Many businesses are risk-averse, and they don't necessarily want to go first, but if they have an example to model themselves after, they're more likely to change. Sometimes this happens simply through comparison; other times the pressure to change comes from customers who notice the difference in one business and begin to demand the same from its competitors. When we dramatically reduced our pricing for food and drinks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, some of our partners and most of our competitors weren't happy. Now, they're lining up to learn about our fan-friendly model, and many are implementing it themselves.
Just as a company can inspire change in its competitors, it can also put pressure on entire industries—improving environmental impact, work conditions, or quality standards down the supply chain. When The Home Depot decided to sell only sustainable lumber in 1999, it was the beginning of a journey for the whole industry to understand and embrace better forestry.
On a societal level, companies have a prominent platform and can have an impact far beyond their own industry. In several instances, I've found myself and my businesses at the heart of polarizing national debates on issues like race, human rights, animal welfare, and gentrification. It's my job, and the responsibility of my companies, to not shy away from such moments, but to strive for grace and diplomacy in addressing these issues. Businesses have a unique opportunity to rise above the political fray and seek values-driven solutions that constructively move things forward.
MY GUIDING LIGHT
At this stage of my life, my kids are probably right when they gently encourage me to slow down a little, but retirement is the last thing on my mind. My work and my family are what keep me feeling alive. Every day, I'm inspired and motivated by the people I work with; the customers, fans, and guests we serve; and the ripples of impact our companies and foundation make in the world. But when I think about what deeply drives me in all my endeavors, both commercial and philanthropic, my mind goes back to my family and to our family business. My dad, Max Blank, serving our neighbors at the pharmacy, and later running his own mail-order pharmaceutical company. My mother, Molly Blank, who took over Dad's business after he passed away when I was fifteen and built it into a successful company, despite having no business background. Mom was an artist, a universalist, and a social justice warrior who pushed her children to learn about other religions and cultures while fiercely adhering to her Jewish roots. Part of the reason my children and I are so interested in social challenges and the happiness of our society comes, without a doubt, from my mother. She truly lived by tikkun olam, the ancient Jewish teaching that each of us is capable of acts of kindness to improve and repair the world. And she was a woman of undying principle.
In situations when a small injustice occurred and others would have just let it go or turned a blind eye, Molly would always keep fighting. Even if the sum of money or the number of people involved seemed inconsequential, she wouldn't back down. Sometimes I'd say to her, "Mom, it's not worth it!" But she'd shake her head and declare, "It's the principle of the thing!" She was always generous with those in need, even when we had very little to give. She never hesitated to speak up for what she believed to be right, whether it was a trifling dispute or a life-threatening situation.
This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose by Jean Case.