The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


August 2, 2012

Going to school with Home Depot's CEO

ATLANTA — Twenty-four newly promoted store managers sit in a classroom at Home Depot’s corporate headquarters. They sport orange aprons and name tags, and they call out answers to questions about how to keep employees motivated.

The door opens. A man walks in. He’s bald, with a ring of gray hair. He’s wearing olive khakis and a button-down shirt and holds a rolled-up paper in one hand. The students break into spontaneous applause. Some snap pictures with their cell phones.

“It’s good to see you all,” Home Depot CEO Frank Blake says. “It’s a great opportunity for me to talk to you a little bit.”

Whether it’s town halls or more intimate chats, CEOs long ago learned the benefits of face-time with their staffs. Many executives meet with employees here and there. But for more than two years, Blake has incorporated a face-to-face meeting with practically every class of newly minted store managers or assistant managers at Atlanta-based Home Depot.

The idea behind such CEO exposure is two-way communication. Employees get a chance to hear about a company’s mission and strategy straight from the top. For Blake and other executives, such regular meetings can also provide ground-level feedback they might not otherwise get.

For Blake’s recent session, the new managers sit around tables, four at each. Walls are decorated with pictures of Home Depot’s “values wheel,” as well as an inverted pyramid with the CEO at the bottom and customers at the top. The students tell Blake who they are, where they’re from and how long they’ve been with Home Depot. He nods at each, sipping occasionally from a Styrofoam cup.

“OK, good move,” he tells someone who came to Home Depot after 26 years with Wal-Mart.

“Take care of Ken,” he tells another when he recognizes the store he’s from.

Blake talks off the cuff about how the housing crisis has been worse than during the Great Depression. About Home Depot’s sales growth, even in the troubled housing market. About the opportunity each of them has with Home Depot.

He offers them all advice for their new jobs as store managers.

“Pick something that’s broken and fix it,” he tells the managers. “You’ll surprise the . (heck) out of people.”

Blake stops in on the classes unannounced. He asks the new managers and assistants what the company makes them do that wastes their time. Then he opens it up to questions.

“It kind of humanizes the CEO,” said Sloan Weitzel, director of business development for Duke Corporate Education. “It definitely sets the sense of ’Wow, we’re really important to the organization.’ ”

Employees who have that kind of interaction with chief executives are more likely to understand and believe in the corporate strategy, Weitzel said. They’re more likely to feel like they’re part of something that matters - that there’s an esprit de corps.

But there are risks. If a CEO is stiff or off-putting, the plan can backfire, Weitzel said.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Blake, who sits in on one to four classes a week.

“The fact that he would take the time to talk to us, instead of just looking at us like subordinates . ” said Doug Curtright, a 10-year Home Depot employee and a new manager in St. Louis. “It was probably one of the most important things out of the entire week.”

While many employees know of Blake’s propensity to drop in, Tom Spahr, Home Depot vice president of learning, said he takes care not to tell them the CEO will be coming. Blake has missed just one or two classes since the program began, Spahr said.

Blake said he appreciates the ability to have candid conversations and explain to employees why the company does things certain ways.

“It’s a great way to get people a consistent view of our expectations for them,” he said. “They’re all individuals. It’s not like it’s a generic company. It’s hugely effective to be able to talk to 20 store managers in a small-room discussion.”

And the employees say that of all the training they go through, they get the most out of hearing their executives speak. For Duane Thierry, an 18-year employee and the new manager in West Covina, Calif., just being in the room with his CEO was huge.

“A lot of times at companies, you don’t have access to people that high,” he said. “It just goes back to having that opportunity to get an answer on something very specific from the head of the horse’s mouth.”


Text Only
  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rise

    Stocks edged mostly lower Wednesday, breaking a six-day winning streak, as investors were disappointed by the latest round of earnings from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5 percent in March

    The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in eight months, a sign that real estate’s spring buying season is off to a weak start.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3M plant expansion to create 22 jobs

    An $18.7 million expansion at the 3M Co. manufacturing plant in Nevada will create 22 new jobs, a company official said Wednesday. “We started 43 years ago as a small manufacturer,” said Todd Cantrell, plant manager, in a meeting with employees. “We are now the largest 3M plant in the state of Missouri and one of the largest of all 3M plants.”

    April 23, 2014

  • First lady announces one-stop job site for vets

    First lady Michelle Obama has announced a new online effort to link soldiers leaving the military with jobs that match their skill sets.

    April 23, 2014

  • Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

    Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

    April 23, 2014

  • Feds seek $211K in fines from Minn. company

    Federal safety regulators are proposing $211,000 in fines for a Minnesota agriculture company that authorities say repeatedly failed to make sure workers weren’t exposed grain dust hazards in Montana.

    April 23, 2014

  • Business US stocks edge lower after a six-day rally

    The stock market slipped Wednesday after rallying for six straight days as investors worked through another round of quarterly earnings reports from U.S. companies.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • GM, lawyers fight over bankruptcy protections

    General Motors Co. and a battalion of trial lawyers are preparing for an epic court fight over whether GM is liable for the sins of its corporate past.

    April 22, 2014

  • Comcast 1Q earns surge on upbeat NBC results

    Comcast Corp. said Tuesday that its first-quarter net income rose by 30 percent as ad revenue surged at broadcast network NBC, helped by the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Jimmy Fallon’s elevation as host of “The Tonight Show.”

    April 22, 2014

  • Valeant, Ackman make $45.6B Allergan bid

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals and activist investor Bill Ackman have unveiled details of their offer to buy Botox maker Allergan, proposing a cash-and-stock deal that could be worth about $45.6 billion.

    April 22, 2014


A Missouri Senate committee has adopted a state budget provision that would prevent public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. Do you agree with this?

     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
NDN Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers