Principles Matter – And Giving Back Is One of Them

When Arthur M. Blank talks about entrepreneurship – what it takes to create, build and grow a company – he talks about principles. And, when he talks about principles, he talks about giving back.

For his accomplishments in the business world – as well as for his record in giving back – Blank was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 Award Winner for the United States at a festive gala on November 19 hosted by Jay Leno in Palm Springs, Calif.

Giving back, in fact, is one of the six core principles of entrepreneurial leadership that guided Blank and Bernie Marcus in building The Home Depot, which they co-founded in 1978, into the world’s largest home improvement retailer. It is a key aspect of the charter of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team, which Blank purchased in 2002 and, as CEO, has transformed into one of the league’s top teams. And, it’s a bedrock element of his personal and family life.

Blank spends a good deal of time tending to the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, which has donated more than $160 million since 1995 to nonprofit organizations focused on helping young children and high school students, developing parkland in the Atlanta area and supporting the arts.

At the helm of the Atlanta Falcons, Blank’s turnaround plan included building a stronger bond with the community. In 2004, the team devoted 3,000 hours to community work. The Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, which supports physical fitness and sports, is now the largest team-funded foundation in the NFL.

Blank’s principles of entrepreneurial leadership – put people first, listening is the cornerstone of success, good ideas are everywhere, innovation is a continuous process, lead by example, creating value depends on values, and giving back is essential – are built around “doing the right thing.”

At Home Depot, Blank and Marcus made a deliberate commitment to doing the right thing by giving back to the communities they served. That included financial contributions – some $113 million during Blank’s tenure until he retired as co-chair in 2001 – and thousands of hours of volunteer time donated by employees.

From responding round-the-clock to the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to phasing out the sale of wood products from endangered regions, Home Depot earned a reputation that led to being voted number one in social responsibility in 2001 by the Harris Interactive Poll.

“It meant more to us than any management award we could have received,” says Blank. “The well being of business cannot be separated from the well being of society.”

Blank shares that perspective with fellow entrepreneurs in a number of board leadership roles, including Atlanta’s Commerce Club, The Carter Center, Emory University, The Cooper Institute, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Outward Bound. He also serves on the Emory business school faculty as its first Distinguished Executive in Residence, and he chairs the capital campaign for the new Atlanta Symphony Center.

Blank notes with some irony that the co-founder of the world’s largest home improvement chain didn’t live in a single-family home until he was 31 years old. Still, while growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, he learned a lot about values.

“My parents,” he says, “always found a way to give their scarce time – and even scarcer dollars – to charity. They taught us that we have an obligation to be our brother’s keeper.”

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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