Arthur Blank’s life journey — “there is no finish line”

By Maria Saporta

When Arthur Blank talks about there being no finish line, he’s talking not just about his business interests but his own way of looking at the world.

“You need to enjoy the journey,” Blank said at the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Business Growth Expo at the Cobb Galleria on Thursday morning. “Success can be very fleeting. You need to enjoy the journey; have the right people in the boat with you; and move on to the next challenge.”

Blank has had his share of challenges. He was best known as being co-founder of the Home Depot, now the second largest retailer in the United States; today he is better known for being the owner of the Atlanta Falcons. But Blank also is involved in a host of other endeavors — from philanthropy, running a resort in Montana and investing in the PGA Super Stores and other retail outlets.

As is often the case, Blank invoked his mother, Molly Blank, in his conversation with ABC Publisher Ed Baker.

“My mom is still alive; she’s 95 years old,” Blank said, adding that it was too early in the morning for her to have attended the Expo. “She often reminds me: ‘You don’t have anything left to prove.’ But she knows I don’t do well on the sidelines.”

Blank, who talked about still having lots of energy at 68 and being dedicated to his six children and three grand-children, then ran through all his different business and personal interests.

“When I get up in the morning, I always have a day of activities in front of me, which I love,” Blank said.

He then shared his business philosophy, saying that he has distilled it down to two focus areas: “our customers and our associates.” In his mind, if you keep you eye on the customers and the employees (associates) who serve those customers, a business stands a greater chance of success.

At Home Depot, Blank said that he and his business partner, Bernie Marcus, “believed in this inverted triangle. Associates were the most important. Bernie and I were at the bottom. We have tried to do the same thing at the Atlanta Falcons.”

Of course, there have been bumps in the road, such as “in 2007 when Michael Vick imploded.”

But throughout, Blank has tried to remain true to his core beliefs, whether it was at Home Depot with its current workforce of 330,000, or today when all his various business interests employ about 1,000 people.

During the question and answer period, Blank was asked about the best piece of advice he had been given. It was back in 1982. He was at conference in New York City where he met Charles Lazarus, the founder of Toys ‘R’ Us.

Because Home Depot was still in its infancy, Blank asked Lazarus: “What’s the most difficult thing I’m going to face?”

Lazarus told him that it would be figuring out how to deal with the circumstances of realizing that a loyal associate did not have the capacity to take the enterprise to the next level. Ideally, one would figure out how to deal with such a situation as gracefully as possible.

Asked about what virtues have helped him most in life, Blank said it was realizing that “good is the enemy of great.”

One Atlanta Falcons fan asked Blank if he would commit keeping the football team in downtown.

“I can promise you we are going to stay in Atlanta. I’m a city guy,” Blank said, but he added that he could not rule out the possibility of moving to the suburbs. “Our preference is to stay within the confines of I-285. We think we’ve come up with a positive situation in that regard. We will continue to move down that path. This is an Atlanta-based football team.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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